Thursday, May 31, 2018

Vignettes for Polavision: The Chase/Lucia Chase Vignette (1978)

Short films can be easy or difficult to review. In either case, it’s usually because the film is so short.  Vignettes for Polavision: The Chase comes in at only three minutes.  It shows a boy stealing a girl’s diary and the ensuing chase.  The location is the Eames Case Study House in Pacific Palisade, California, which can also be seen in House: After Five Years of Living.

There’s no dialogue in the movie.  It’s just the girl trying to get her diary back from that darned boy.  The film was a test for the Polavision Instant Home Movie System.  The system didn’t really catch on.  (Part of this was due to low quality.  It also had VHS and Betamax to contend with, either of which had sound and could be reused.)

It’s a very simple movie, safe for all ages.  The short is available as part of a DVD collection, The Films of Charles & Ray Eames.  Unfortunately, the DVD set doesn’t seem to be available through Netflix any more, even to save.  I’m not sure why this is.  I was able to rent the second disc, but when I went to return it and get the next disc, all of the subsequent discs had been removed.  (Volume 2 still shows in my history, but I can’t click on it.)  If anyone knows what happened, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Toys That Made Us (Season 1)

Some brands are so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to imagine someone that doesn’t know what they are.   If you walked down a busy street in a major city, I’d imagine that everyone would know what Taco Bell is.  You’d probably be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Microsoft.  The same goes for toys.  Netflix produced a documentary series about eight toy lines, dividing them in to two seasons.

The first four episodes deal with Star Wars, Barbie, He-Man and G.I. Joe in that order.  Even if you didn’t play with any of those toy lines, you’re probably familiar with them.  Most people my age either had some of those toys or knew someone who did.  That’s how popular these toys were.

Each episode details the history of the toy line.  We see interviews from key people, like designers and writers  In the case of Star Wars, they were made to cash in on the success of the movies.  With He-Man and G.I. Joe, the reverse was true.  The comics and TV series were made to promote the toys.  Either way, toy companies were talking about millions of dollars in sales every year.

Each episode runs under an hour.  There wasn’t much that I would consider new information.  You don’t really get to see a lot of the details.  It’s more like who the major players were.  Some people came up with the general idea.  Some people developed characters or art.  In the case of He-Man, the comics and TV show were one man’s quick-witted attempt to get the company to produce the toys.

I think most of it is the perspective  As a child, you can forget that there’s a business end to the stuff you want.  To companies like Mattel and Hasbro, these are how they keep the lights on.  Most adults won’t be surprised by this.  It’s kind of fun to see what people (and the companies) had to go through to get the products to market.

I don’t know that the series is meant for a general audience.  If you didn’t own one of those four toys, you’re probably not going to be interested in that particular episode.  Each line had it’s ups and downs.  I do remember playing with He-Man as a child.  That was probably the most interesting episode to me.  The others didn’t seem to have that same connection.  I knew people that were really into Star Wars and I think we had a few of the smaller G.I. Joe toys, sure.  I just didn’t feel like I took anything away from those episodes.

I think, if anything, the series is geared more towards collectors.  I might watch the next four episodes, mostly because it includes two toy lines (Transformers and LEGO) that I played with.  The opening theme indicates that this is an eight-part series, so I don’t know that there will be a third season.  I’d be interested to see what they might do with that, though.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

RBG (2018)

There are certain mistakes that, in retrospect, seem obvious.  Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix.  Granted, such a thing might have seemed somewhat risky at the time.  Either way, the executives who made that decision probably no longer has a job.  Similarly, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated law school, she was passed up by several law firms.  In her case, it was because she was female and law firms didn’t hire women at the time.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like to know you passed over someone that went on to the highest court in the land.

RBG follows the career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The name comes from a meme in the vein of The Notorious B.I.G.  It’s not a deep documentary.  There aren’t going to be any surprises.  When studying at Cornell, her classmates were predominantly male.  She was occasionally accused of taking a spot that should have gone to a man.   She was known for taking on gender-bias cases, including a female military officer denied a housing bonus and a widower denied his spouse’s social security benefits.

It’s one of those life-and-times stories that you might see on PBS.  We get to see interviews from family members.  Bill Clinton appears, having been the president to nominate her.  Gloria Steinem is interviewed, as well.  Archival footage of her confirmation hearings, which are interspersed throughout the movie.

I do think it could have gone more in depth.  I don’t know that it necessarily should have, though.  In the age of the Internet, there’s no shortage of information on members of government.   The documentary would probably feel at home in a middle-school civics class.   It would serve as a good introduction into someone who has had a sizeable impact on our country and is only the second woman to serve on The Supreme Court.  (The movie mentions that she’s the 107th person to be appointed.)

I would definitely say that the movie is worth watching.  I don’t know that it will necessarily get a field trip to a theater, but it might be worth renting for a class.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Toccata for Toy Trains (1957)

Most people are known for being one thing.  Some people are known for being an athlete or a musician.  Sometimes, people will make a transition.  I’ve noticed that a lot of entertainers become politicians.  (Both careers would seem to have a similar skill set.)  I first became aware of Charles and Ray Eames due to their short film, Powers of Ten.  As an adult, I looked it up and found out that they were also known for furniture and architecture.  While I have met other people that know about Powers of Ten, I wasn‘t really aware of how many short films they‘ve made over the years.

One of those films was Toccata for Toy Trains.  It opens with a narration stating that the trains shown are toy trains, rather than model trains.  The primary difference is that these aren’t meant to be exact replicas.  They’re meant to be played with.  (Some of the trains and people seem somewhat exaggerated.)  The film seems to go around a single area, showing people going about their business.  Much of it is either on or from the perspective of a train.

Much of the film seems like regular camerawork, but there are a few segments that appear to be stop motion.  Everything is close up.  There are no wide shots of the entire thing.  You don’t get anything that establishes the full scale of the layout.

Most people probably would pass this one over if they came across it on YouTube.  It’s only 14 minutes, but I would imagine that adults would get bored with it early.  Unless you’re a train or toy enthusiast, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.  It’s the kind of thing that might be shown as an interstitial on a PBS station.  At the very least, it’s short.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Blacktop: A Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard (1952)

When you hear of an experimental film, you tend to think of subject matter.  Charles and Ray Eames directed a few short films that could be considered experimental.  In their case, however, it was usually to test equipment or a new type of medium.  I’m ot sure if Blacktop falls under this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  If you’ve seen more than three of their short films, you may know that they’ve done some very simple shorts.  This one is probably the simplest that I’ve seen so far.

It’s nothing more than soapy water flowing over what appears to be a playground, hence the name.  There are very few distinguishing features.  Most of the surface is, as the name implies, black.  Occasionally, there’s a patch of grass or some markings in the form of paint.  (You can make out a few lines and an occasional number.)

We don’t even get to see where the water is coming from.  I’d assume a pressure cleaner, but I’m not sure what the standard method was back in 1952.  I’m not even sure if pressure cleaning is the correct method today.  It’s jut that it seems somewhat wasteful to simply pour water over such a presumably large surface.

There is an esoteric quality to the short.  I’m not really sure who this was intended for.  I really only watched it because I was able to get the DVD from Netflix.  I don’t recall there being any sort of commentary on the DVD that I got, although it would be interesting to find out more about these films.

It’s not the kind of thing most people would even think to rent.  I could see this playing in an art museum.  I could even see someone mimicking it to learn technique.  It’s not the kind of film I’d recommend to a wider audience.  At 11 minutes, it may seem a little long.  I kept waiting for something to happen.  I can’t say I was necessarily disappointed, but I never got my wish.  It was all water flowing over a surface.

If you can find it as part of a collection or come across it online, it’s worth a few minutes, at least.  I don’t know that you should expect to watch the whole thing.

IMDb page

Thursday, May 24, 2018

House: After Five Years of Living (1955)

Sometimes, when you find something new, you try to find more of the same.  If you come across a song you like, you might look for other tracks by the same artist or maybe buy the album.  There is a certain expectation that the other tracks will sound similar.  When I first saw Powers of Ten, I didn’t realize that Charles and Ray Eames had made so many short films.  Netflix and YouTube have allowed me to find many other short films by the husband-and-wife team.  Not all of them where what I expected

I had imagined that this was more of a documentary.  I had read that the Eameses had  designed, built and lived in a house.  This movie shows what that house looks like after about five years.  You get the usual assortment of items, like tables and chairs.  There’s even a spiral staircase.   Instead of interviews, it’s a series of still images, each shown for a moment before moving on to the next one.  The entire sequence runs for 11 minutes and is set to music by Elmer Bernstein.

The house itself is currently open to visitors.  Students can get in free.  Everyone else is charged a $10 admission.  Apparently, you have to make a reservation.  (Details can be found on the Web site.)  It might be interesting to visit if I’m ever I the area.  However, the Web site states that you can’t park on site due to the location.  Also, due to the age of the house, restrooms aren’t available for public use.

If you want to watch this production, it is available on DVD as part of a collection.  The Eames Web site doesn’t seem to have this video available, nor does it appear to be available on their YouTube channel.  However, there does appear to be a house walkthrough.   (The walkthrough seems to be more what I had in mind for this short.)  I did see the video on YouTube, but the account isn’t the official Eames account.  I’m not sure what their association is.

I don’t know that I would buy any of the sets.  The replay value is going to be limited for me.  My interest is in seeing what else Charles and Ray Eames made.  I’m probably going to watch many of the films just once.  I could see this being of interest to architects or art students.  Even then, I don’t know how often it would be viewed.

The DVD I was able to rent from Netflix was The Films of Charles & Ray Eames, which goes on Amazon for $250.  Unfortunately, I could get just Vol. 2 before Netflix removed it from their selection.  I might have to check local libraries to find other copies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Overboard (2018)

I vaguely remember the 1987 version of Overboard.  I recall that it starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, neither of which I particularly care for.  It wasn’t a particularly great movie to begin with.  It was about a woman who falls off the side of a ship.  When it’s discovered that she has amnesia, she’s taken in by a man in need of a wife.  The 2018 remake follows a similar plot with the main roles reversed.

In case you’re wondering, this is a movie that I had gone to see with my parents.  There weren’t any other movies playing that we could all agree on and I figured that the original was so bad that they might actually be able to improve on it.  I was not correct.

Kate is working three jobs while trying to become a nurse.  Leonardo is the son of the third-richest man in the world.  As per one of her jobs, Kate goes to clean Leonard’s boat.  Before setting off, Leonardo pushes her off the boat and throws her equipment overboard, as well.  She gets fired and has to pay for the equipment.  Shortly thereafter, Leonardo falls off the side of his boat.  When he washes ashore, he has no memory of who he is.  Kate goes to the hospital to claim him so that she might put him to work.

I found the entire movie to be questionable, at best.  It’s stated that she knows someone who knows someone who can fake documents and whatnot.  Still, the entire thing requires the cooperating of her three children and all of her friends.  Everyone seems to go along with it, although there are still issues.

Since Leonardo was a heavy drinker, Kate gets the idea to put him in AA.  While the real Leonardo wasn’t in AA, Kate’s husband had been going.  I’m not sure how this worked out.  If it was a real group, someone might have said something about Leo being the new guy.  If not, it would mean that Kate had to assemble a group of random people and rent out a location somewhere.  I don’t recall it being explicitly stated which it was.

The entire scenario is legally questionable if we’re being kind.  It is acknowledged that Kate is essentially kidnapping Leonardo.  Even when things come to light, no mention is made of Kate being arrested or needing a lawyer.  She basically gets away with it.

This brings up the entire plot device of Leonardo’s amnesia.  Being that this is a comedy and a remake, I don’t think I’m giving much away when I say that Leonardo gets his memory back.  Throughout the movie, it’s almost an all-or-nothing deal.  Leonardo remembers that he doesn’t like doing certain things, but has no memory of his previous life.  Even seeing building supplies with his family name on them, he doesn’t recall who he is.

It isn’t until his father arrives that his memories come flooding back.  I’m not sure if this is how amnesia works.  Being that it’s a comedy, I’m certain liberties were taken for the sake of the story, but it seems a little forced.  It seems to be a way of having him storm off at the right moment.

This ended up being a horrible, clichéd movie.  Every part of it seems to be done for the sake of a joke.  We even have a running gag of Leo being a real dad versus a fake dad.  (Since the daughters look nothing like Leo, Kate says that they used a sperm donor.)  Normally, I’d say stick with the original, but I can’t even do that here.  I would say that both movies are worth missing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair (1960)

A little bit of nostalgia can go a long way.  When looking up the short film Powers of Ten, I came to realize that the directors of the film had also made several other movies.  Charles and Ray Eames are known for chairs.  But they also made a lot of movies, including Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair.  They not only wrote and directed it, but they also make an appearance.

The short film is pretty much what the name implies.  There’s no dialogue, but there are plenty of chairs and a lot of imagery reminiscent of kaleidoscopes.  There’s also some nice music accompanying it.  It only runs for seven minutes, which makes it pretty efficient.

I had gotten this on DVD from Netflix.  I was able to skip the first DVD, as both of those motion pictures were available through their YouTube channel.  It took me a while to watch many of the shorts on the second disc, as I was having trouble finding a DVD player that would play the disc.  When I went to see about renting another disc, I was dismayed to see that they’re no longer available.

It’s a shame.  All of the shorts, including this one, are kind of fun to watch at least once.  I don’t expect to get a lot of replay out of this one, so buying it probably wouldn’t be best.  From what I can tell, most of the versions available on YouTube are excerpts.  To watch the full video, you may have to either buy the DVD or see if your local library has it.

I think for most people, this isn’t going to be one of the videos that would compel you to buy the whole set or even the one disc.  It’s the kind of thing you’d watch after having some other reason to buy it.  I could see an art teacher playing this in class one day.  I would definitely recommend watching this short film if you can get access to it.  It’s a shame you can’t rent it from Netflix, though.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Atlas (1976)

A lot of things happened in years ending with 76.  I was born in 1976.  200 years before that, America broke away from England.  Also, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, was published.  Atlas was produced to coincide with the 200th anniversary of its publication.

It’s a short video, only 2½ minutes long.  The video shows how Rome grew from a city to an empire and back again.  Most versions seem to repeat the video.  The first time has narration.  The second time is just the animation with music.  (The version on the Eames YouTube Channel has Russian subtitles.)

The animation is pretty simple.  It shows Rome and the surrounding empires and groups, like the Huns, and how each group changed over the corresponding years.  The time frame runs from circa 500 B.C. to A.D. 500.  The short is safe for people of all ages.  It’s just a map with changing lines and either narration or music.

There’s nothing objectionable like fights.  It’s not particularly elaborate, but it is at least somewhat informative.  It helps people visualize what the map looked like over the span of a millennium.  It’s exactly the kind of thing that a teacher might show to a third-grade class.

IMDb doesn’t list who the narrator is and I can’t find any information that would suggest a particular name.  I would imagine that it’s narrated by Charles Eames only because the voice is male.  If anyone can tell me definitively, please leave a comment.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 36 (A World of His Own)

The Twilight Zone was known for stories that bent the rules a little.  Someone might find themselves transported to an alternate reality.   A dying man may get the chance to cheat death.  A walk might result in a trip back in time.  Sometimes, there’d be a catch.  Not always, though.

Gregory West, for instance, has a tape recorder that allows him to create people.  His wife, Victoria, looks through a window Gregory and Mary.  When Victoria finally comes into the house, Mary is gone.  There are no secret doors.  There are no hidden compartments.  Gregory explains that he describes a character into the microphone and the person he describes appears. If he burns the corresponding tape, the person goes away.

She doesn’t believe him.  In fact, Gregory has to create an elephant to keep her from leaving the room.  When Gregory produces an envelope marked Victoria, she grabs it from him and throws it into the fire only to realize that he was telling the truth.

Gregory starts to recreate Victoria only to realize that he could have Mary as his wife, instead.  The episode ends with Rod Serling appearing on screen only to find out that he, too, is a figment of Gregory’s imagination.  (This is the only episode from the first season where Serling made an appearance within the episode rather than simply having a voiceover.)  

The episode takes place entirely within the house.  This may have been done to save money, as the Twilight Zone is said not to have had a huge budget.  It seemed common for episodes to have a small area in which the story was set and to have very few actors.  (Including the elephant and Rod Serling, there are only five characters in this one.)  I think it says something that the series was able to come up with so many memorable episodes given the restrictions.

This was actually a pretty fitting ending for the first season of The Twilight Zone.  This episode effectively leaves you wondering what’s real and what’s imagination.  How many wives has Gregory had?  Is he even really a playwright?  Richard Matheson came up with some fairly good episodes for the series.  This was one of the better episodes, despite the fact that it was somewhat streamlined.

I’m somewhat surprised that I’ve never seen it.  Then again, there were over 150 episodes.  Eve if I catch a lot of marathons, I’m going to miss a few.  This is where modern technology comes in handy.  Given services like Netflix  and that most libraries allow you to check out DVDs, it’s not difficult to watch the series at my own pace.

For those watching or renting/borrowing the series, the episodes can be watched out of order.  The last scene of this episode makes a little more sense when you consider that this was the season finale, but not knowing that doesn’t really detract from it.  If this happened to be the first episode you had ever seen, it would still be a good one.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Omohide poro poro/Only Yesterday (1991)

A few days ago, I read that director Isao Takahata died.  Takahata co-founded Studio Ghibli along with Hayao Miyazaki.  The article pointed out something that I hadn’t considered before: Miyazaki tended to direct more fantastical movies whereas Takahata tended to direct more realistic ones.

In fact, Only Yesterday seems like something The Hallmark Channel might air, even if only on a superficial level.  The movie is about a woman living in a big city with a comfortable job.  She goes on vacation to a small town, where she finds that small-city life isn’t so bad.  The events of the movie force her to confront who she really is.  She even meets a potential love interest that she spends most of the movie not being overtly interested in romantically.

Taeko is actually visiting her brother-in-law’s family.  She wants to get away for a while, but has no real plans of staying there permanently.  She’s just trying to get away from city life by helping out with a safflower harvest.  While there, a lot of memories from her childhood resurface.  She has no idea why.

The movie is a little unusual in that it doesn’t seem to be aimed at children.  Taeko seems like a normal young girl.  She has trouble with fractions.  She’s maybe a little awkward around boys.  She even stresses out at being one of the few children not going on vacation for the summer.

The unusual part comes in that the movie deals with puberty and the onset of menstruation.  It’s mentioned as something that a young girl would be concerned about.  It’s not really explained in graphic detail, but it is something for parents to be aware of.  From what I’ve read, that’s what kept Disney from releasing it in America.  (GKIDS had to be the one to distribute it here.)

I didn’t really feel uncomfortable with the references.  The story focused on Taeko and her trip, for the most part.  It seems to be about her coming to terms with her life choices.  She’s used to big-city life, but is it really what she wants?  She’s single, but doesn’t seem set against a relationship.  (She does resist a little when people bring up dating.)

I would say that the movie is more for adults.  It should be safe for those 13 and above, but there might be some uncomfortable questions due to talk of puberty and dating.  It’s nothing that would scar a child, but you might want to be prepared to answer questions on basic reproduction.

IMDb page

Friday, May 11, 2018

Du levande/You, the Living (2007)

About six months ago, I came across En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron by Roy Andersson.  (The title translates roughly as A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.)  It was a very subdued, muted film that seemed to comment on the nature of life.  I was able to get it streaming through Netflix.  It was the third in a trilogy.  I was able to rent the second movie in the trilogy, Du levande (You, the Living) on DVD.

Du levande has that same muted quality to it.  I could probably copy large parts of my other review here, they’re that similar.  It’s a movie consisting of several short scenes, some related to others and some seemingly independent.  One couple is featured in several scenes where they argue with each other.  In another set of scenes, various musicians practice, either alone or as a group.  A driver recalls a dream he had where he was sentenced for breaking centuries-old dishes.

It has an almost Seinfeld-like quality in that it’s mostly everyday stuff.  It’s not necessarily comedic.  Some of it can be a little odd or depressing.  (A psychiatrist recounts how he has 27 patients wanting help that he can’t provide.)  There’s definitely an absurd element to the movie.  It’s almost like a blunt elegance.  There aren’t a lot of details, but what few there are come through very clearly.

As with the third movie, there’s very little camera movement and the acting is almost monotone.  Characters break the fourth wall.  The technique is effective, though.  There doesn’t seem to be any connection in the narrative between this movie and the next one.  (The movies don’t have any characters in common.)  I also don’t feel like I was missing out by not having seen the first movie yet.  You could easily rent the two movies out of order.

If you’ve seen En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron and liked it, you’ll probably like this one.  I didn’t find it to be repetitive.  However, I don’t know that you’ll want to watch them back to back.  You might want to wait a few weeks just for pacing.  This movie was 95 minutes whereas En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron was 101 minutes.  Almost 200 minutes of this might be a bit much for someone to take in at once.

IMDb page