“Coco”: a real look at an afterlife, where you can die again if you really are forgotten

Coco”, Pixar’s latest “real-life animation” opus, directed by Lee Unkrich (author of the original story) and Adrian Molina, hits two philosophical areas (admitting some intersectionality) pretty hard.

The most interesting of these is a physical presentation of the afterlife, and the assertion that someone has eternal life as long as at least one person on Earth remembers the person.  (It’s sort of “the right to be forgotten” in reverse.) That would occur either through content the person produced (especially music), or (for more people) descendants in the biological extended family, the common idea of vicarious immortality (which accounts for a lot of homophobia and now trans-phobia). The second idea follows, that participation in the extended family is mandatory for everyone, that guarantee gives more meaning to the family, which is viewed as only as strong as its weakest link.

The hero, 12-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has been told by his family, especially grandma, that music is forbidden and that his life is mapped out for him in the family business, real-world shoe making. (There’s no Internet.) On an annual “Day of the Dead” (“Dia de los Muertos”), gandma smashes his guitar.  In a complicated sequence, Miguel breaks into the tomb area of an ancestral troubadour, trying to find a guitar, and accidentally takes the “bridge” to the Afterlife.  The deal is he can stay alive only if he returns by dawn.

Now the Afterlife, if not exactly heaven, is an interesting place.  It comprises toroidal columns of roads and houses floating in space, connected by bridges, with an occasional theater hall.  There is a kind of crude metro train that runs between the “chandeliers”.  The people look like skeletons nicely dressed, and Miguel has to undergo that transformation.  We hope it’s temporary. There’s also a bottomless well, and other traps. You have to pass through TSA-like security to get in.  The entire dominion reminds one of Clive Barker’s depiction of “The First Dominion” toward the end of his 1991 novel “Imajica” (and that dominion, along with “God”, gets destroyed at the end of the novel).

Now the family is headed by Miguel’s great grandma Coco (Ana Orfelia Murguia), impressively built as a character, and descending into Alzheimer’s – a development which threatens the memories and immortality of people already passed to this other “Dominion”. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that music will restore some of her mind. (There’s reason to think that this works medically with real dementia patients – sounds like a volunteer or career opportunity.)   The family hates music because a great great grandfather left his wife and became an itinerant singer and then got killed in a freak accident when a bell found on him.

Once in the Dominion, Miguel encounters a murder mystery, as a family member Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) had been murdered by an imposter (whom Miguel felt upwardly affiliated to) who in fact stole all Hector’s songs (like copyright infringement).  There is a script line about having to “fake it” that sounds borrowed from Reid Ewing’s “other” song for “Modern Family”, “Imagine Me Naked”, which works better if you are a healthy 23 year old than if you’ve become a skeleton or nullianac in the First Dominion.  The end credit song in this movie is “Remember Me” (by Kristen Anderson-Loprz), which could almost fit into “Modern”.

The feature is preceeded by an animated short “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” (21 min, directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermer) as kind of epilogue to “Frozen”.  The main song seems to be “Together”. But Trump uses that word.  Vox reports that this “short” is not going over well with audiences.

Name: “Coco”
Director, writer:  Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 (short is 1.85:1), 3D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, larger auditorium, near sell-out on Black Friday afternoon
Length:  106
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“The Evolution of Digital Comics” (Guest Post)

The Evolution of Digital Comics” by Amy Boyd

One of the reasons why comic books remain popular is because of their appeal across ages. Not only do younger people appreciate these stories, but even older audiences as well. This is why even if comic books have already evolved over the years, they remain relevant.

These days, actual comic books are no longer that popular. You don’t see people flocking to magazine shops just to get the latest copy of a superhero story. This does not mean though that the culture is dead.

In fact, it is more alive than ever. The reason why it stays popular is because everything was brought to an entirely different platform. Digital comics or webtoons are now a big deal. They are a mix between reading from a real comic book and watching a video.

You are still reading the story, but you can see better images and you can also add sound effects. You need to scroll from one page to another just like how you to do it in a comic book. You can also read the content wherever you go, even if you don’t have Internet access.

The whole concept might seem like a step back from the idea of just sitting down and watching a video. However, a lot of people have become really interested with this concept and this paved the way for the popularity of webtoons.

In short, the comic book fever will remain for a very long time. Check out the infographic below and find out how digital comics were born.

The Evolution of Digital Comics

(Posted: Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 9 AM EST)

“Presenting Princess Shaw”: how a mashup artist helps an amateur YouTube singer become a star

Presenting Princess Shaw”, directed by Ido Haar, starts with a text tagline to the effect that user-generated content on the Internet gives potential voices to all so that ordinary people don’t have to bow down to the powerful.

Yet, we are left to wonder, what makes some artists popular and viral and eventually powerful.

The film presents a nurse, Samantha Montgomery, who built her art entertaining residents at assisted living centers in New Orleans where she works.  She writes her own songs and does a reasonable job of recording them and putting them up on her YouTube channel.  The film shows us plenty of everyday life in the Ninth Ward, years after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Negev region of Israel, Ophir Kutiel builds mixages and mashups of the works of many artists, often unbeknownst to them.  This practice, creating what is called derivative works in copyright law, is sometimes legally controversial and unclear, but very much supported by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The end result is that “Princecess Shaw” very much earns her “right of publicity”.

The film shows a lot of the tech work behind mixing, which I ought to learn in order to edit my own YouTube videos on my own autobiographical material (with Final Cut Pro).  So I guess this documentary gives me a kick in the pants.  Music is recorded and mixed in different ways, including being entered directly onto a tablet rather than through a Midi.

There is an interesting soliloquy (vertical cell phone video) where Samantha talks about being alone after a visit to distant family.  It sounds like personal growth, Rosenfels community stuff.

There’s a video with a telltale title, “Give It Up”.  Lose it.

Finally, Samantha goes to Tel Aviv and meets Ophir to put on a major show. She sings while Ophir does keyboard.

PBS did a brief director interview after the film. The director talked about passive self-promotion on the web and being found.

The POV short film was “Driven” from “Story Corps”, by Wendell Scott, in animation, about an African-American amateur race driver in the segregated South.

Negev scene.

Name:  “Presenting Princess Shaw
Director, writer:  Ido Haar
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/7/17
Length:  90 (81 on PBS)
Rating:  PG-13
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media, PBS POV
Link:  official PBS

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017, at 11:45 PM EDT

“Thank You for Playing”: a dad honors his son’s cancer fight with a video game


Name: Thank You for Playing
Director, writer:  David Osit, Malika Zouhali-Worrall
Released:  2015
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2016/10/24
Length 80
Rating (PG?)
Companies: PBS POV
Link: PBS

Thank You for Playing” (and not just spectating – my addition to the title) is an engrossing film about the world of video gaming – as engineered by a gentle an husband and father (Ryan Green) whose youngest son has a terminal brain terminal.  The game is called “The Dragon, Cancer”.

Close to half of the 80 minute film presents an alternative universe of animation, for his little boy to live in.

Ryan and his family live in Colorado, and the real world surroundings are beautiful enough. They travel to Seattle to a gamer’s conference, and then to San Francisco for one last attempt at radical radiation therapy to save the boy, who passes away at three but has outlived his original prognosis by over a year.

Green has other young programmers helping him build the game, and there are plenty of screenshots of java code.

The film shows the intimacy of the family, which seems to embrace the family bed, way beyond what I would be capable of.

Along these lines are studies which show that testosterone levels of men drop off after they become fathers in marriages and care for their children; Pam Belluck wrote in 2011 for the NYTimes that this is not news fathers want to hear.   How does the body know that the partner has had a child?  Telepathy? Pheromones?  Science Magazine reports  that the drop in male hormones is the lowest in men who spend time caring for their children.  (I can remember an office joke back in 1971 or so from a finicky heterosexual coworker who thought “male sex hormones in the bloodstream” are a bad thing.)  Fatherhood sometimes changes men radically, from the viewpoint of the outside world. But not always.

School’s Out from Julie Zammarchi on Vimeo.

PBS POV followed this feature (Monday, Oct. 24, 2016) with the short film “Schools’ Out” by Julie Zammarchi, about the legacy of segregated schools.  A possible comparison would be “Boyds Negro School” (index).

Wikipedia attribution link for Independence Pass picture , by Nan Palermo, CCSA 2.0.    I drove it in 1984.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)

DC Shorts: “Be Careful What You Wish For”, especially in post-Soviet “Subotika”


I got to one more DC Shorts program, “Be Careful What You Wish For”, a conservative adage.  It showed in a large auditorium at Landmark E Street.

The longest film shown was “Zero M2” or “Zero  Square Meters” (18 min, French) by Mathieu Landour.  An appealing young male graduate student (economics) arrives in Paris and looks for a flat to rent.  He finds a landlady willing to let him rent a room for a bargain basement price, and he doesn’t read the fine print on the lease.  So the room keeps shrinking.

The landlady, at one point, says she inherited the property, as if the inheritance came with strings (a “Dead Hand”) and social obligations.  So her goal is to increase the stock of affordable housing by shrinking the apartments into microtubules.

I wondered if this film could have been turned into a sci-fi story of being compressed into a black hole, and finding out what it would like to go into one.  If the black hole were really massive, you would be too sinful to notice,

Red Rover” (15 min, Australia), by Brooke Goldfinch, presents us with a young teen couple who don’t buy their evangelical family’s idea that an asteroid is going to destroy the world. They get out (after the family eats cyanide for dinner) to find the townspeople believe the same thing, and have a “motel hell” orgy.  The ending of the film will remind you of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia”.

Subotika: Land of Wonders” (14 min, Switzerland, “realistic” animation), by Peter Volkart, has an appealing young couple taking their honeymoon in a hidden post-Communist (specifically Soviet) enclave, where slag heaps provide scenic attractions and communication is by pneumatic tubes.  The geography of the place reminds me of the wasteland in my own sci-fi screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing” which I entered into Project Greenlight in 2004. Actually, this film is fascinating to watch.  It looks like a real place, maybe on another planet.  Is this movie “conservative” (because of the obvious attack on Soviet-style collectivism) or “liberal” (because of environmental concerns)?

40h Anniversary” (14 min, Spain), shows a 60-something couple making confessions as they sit in an outdoors Madrid café.  The camera never moves.  The worst confession is that the husband euthanized his mother after she had become a vegetable through end-stage dementia, so he could get on with his life.

Boy-Razor” (12 min, Sweden, but with actors of color), by Peter Pontikis, has a troubled kid placing a razor blade in a crevice of a water slide to get even for being bullied.  We really don’t see many of the consequences.

Sundae” (7 min, Sonya Goody), has a mom driving around Queens asking her son for the house her female enemy lives in, with a reward of an ice cream sundae,

Mine” (about 12 min), filmed in Kensington Gardens, England, by Simon Berry, seems to be a last minute replacement.  A woman leads her husband to a spot in the woods where he steps on a mine (reminding one of a recent incident in Central Park that cost a teenager a leg).  But the dead hand is active.

Last Door South” (“Derniere Porte au Sud”) by Sacha Feiner, from France, wasn’t shown, but the “Making of” video (22 minutes) for this black-and-white animation story about a two-headed mom raising her two-headed son is fascinating,  The realistic animation is shot from models and puppets that took enormous painstaking work by many artisans to create.  I couldn’t easily recreate this with my own trainset downstairs.

(Posted: Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 at 11:15 AM)

“Sausage Party”: Freedom of speech includes films by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, even when animated


Name: Sausage Party
Director, writer:  Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon; many writers, including Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1  3-D available
When and how viewed:  2016/8/31, AMC Shirlington, light audience
Length 89
Rating R
Companies: Sony-Columbia, Annapurna
Link: official

Last Friday morning, while on a trip, I actually ate a sausage McMuffin for breakfast at a McDonald’s on US 60 near my Red Roof Inn room in Huntington W Va.

I rarely eat pork, although I’ve not gone to Bill Clinton’s vegan diet – which really tastes good when you can find a vegan restaurant.  Reid Ewing has recently been advocating vegan, too, out of moral grounds, but also as a way to stay biologically 20-something forever.

Nevertheless, I took in “Sausage Party” tonight because Richard Harmon talked about it a lot on Twitter, having a real party, I guess in Toronto.

I had expected a movie like “Babe” (1995), where a piglet only gradually becomes aware of his future fate of being eaten, and transcends it by becoming an animal soldier.  But here, the processed foods in a “Shopwell” (there is a Shop Rite in New Jersey) become the characters, to voices like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Ed Norton.  The drug addict who brings the to life acts to the voice of James Franco, who in real life looks fine, but here plays a pear-shaped thin man with a pot belly and balding legs, ruined by drugs and cigarettes.  But he turns the foods into real live things in his mind.

The innards of the grocery store are made to look like a fantasy city, and the “foods” are promised a Gray Beyond, as they only gradually figure out they will be eaten.  A few non-perishables (“Grits”) think they are immortal, like angels.

Of course, the best way to deal with impending death is to “eat drink and be merry” and have object-oriented sex, all in java libraries.

There’s a great line, “you’re different, so you burden the group.” So the story must prove otherwise.

The film is directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, and the story is a concoction from Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Evan Goldberg.

There are some wonderful, Broadway-like songs (“I Can Be”, which wants to become Ram Dass and “Be Here Now”).

The “premise” of the film reminds me of the sci-fi film “The Giver” (2014).

(Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, 11:45 PM)