Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I’m giddy. I get to publish reviews by Outlaw Vern and Clarence Beaks, two of my favorite AICN contributors, in the same day. Vern’s in Seattle, checking out the scene at the Seattle International Film Festival, and has the following report to file:
Dear Harry and Moriarty,
First of all I saw MISSING PERSONS which is a low budget computer animated feature done by two twin brothers named Matt and Dan O’Donnell. At least I think there are two of them, they are twins. And no these are not the creepy american twin animators who speak with british accents, you’re thinking of the Quay brothers. This is a completely different set of twin animators, as far as I can tell.
The credits only list these two guys, and then the songs, so apparently they did the entire thing themselves (all the animation, all the voices, even apparently designed the software, etc.) so it’s pretty impressive. On the other hand, for this reason it is not always up to the technical standards expected by most grown adults who watch cartoons.
But that didn’t bother me too much, because underneath it you got real good characters and story and a completely original use of the cartoon type medium. The story is about two sets of characters who are connected by events but are not really related – there are no good guys and bad guys, or people opposing each other. You just got two relationships – an older cop who maybe sees too much in his eccentric/stupid young partner “Snookie”, and an ex-con drug dealer and his robot partner Computo. The drug dealers interested me more because early on Crazy Legs gets shot in half by cops (yes, SHOT in half – always worse than a mere CHOPPING in half) but is man enough to stick it out for a while. So he’s crawling around on his hands, dragging what’s left of his spine and intestines out the ass end, trying to accept his lot in life and get by just like you or me, but instead of discussing the films of the Cinema on the internet like us he just has a robot who sells shrooms for him.
Computo, to me, is the heart of the picture. He’s a non-humanoid type robot with a red pill shaped head and camera lens face, erector-set pincher arms and one wheel. Also he wears a metal hat. He doesn’t talk much so as he buzzes and whirs around he kinda reminded me of that penguin in the wallace and gromit picture “The Wrong Trousers.” You know how the penguin goes around and he has kind of a blank look on his face but you read all kinds shit into it? That god damn penguin. Well that’s what Computo is but a little less sinister and a little more tragic.
You see it is revealed in a hilarious/sad court room scene that Computo was part of a line of World War II military robots who, once they were no longer in use, were abandoned, dumped off into the streets, the same way they do with veterans, without the skills or knowledge to integrate into society. (At least he doesn’t have Gulf War syndrome I guess.) So he doesn’t really understand right or wrong or proper drug salesmanship. At one point he offers drugs to the two cop characters, in uniform, and they yell “We’re cops!”, so disgusted by the stupidity of what he’s doing that they ignore the illegality. Later he tries to get a real job but doesn’t understand not to put “incarcerated for shooting a cop” on his resume.
The story does not follow your usual hollywood good vs. evil, plot twist on page 32, trying to achieve a goal type formula. In fact maybe it was the Tom Waits song but it kinda reminded me of the quiet, unpredictable rhythm of a Jim Jarmusch picture. Except with a robot. The actual cinematism is very live action, with non-joke oriented dialogue between characters and songs (and they never use that “hey now, you’re an all star, you’re an all star, here we go now” song) used to great effect.
There are lots of funny jokes, but not really punchlines, and the humor isn’t exactly rapid fire. All of the characters are pretty tragic. There is a really bleak flashback that is either really fuckin sad or hilariously absurd, depending how you look at it.
By the way do you think in the next Air Bud movie he becomes a NASCAR driver, and it’s called Air Bud: Pooch Position. If not Air Bud: The Fast and the Furriest. Ain’t no rule says a dog can’t race cars. But that really has little to do with this review, sorry. Just thought I’d put it out there.
The style of MISSING PERSONS is not your usual 3-D computer cartoons like “Toy Stories” or “Shrek”. The characters I guess are 3-dimensional models (the camera rotates around them and what not) but they are made up of solid lines like drawings. None of that failed attempt to look photorealistic bullshit. But still this might be the exact wrong style to tell this story in, because the setting and most of the characters are gritty and urban, but the computer animation is completely clean. Most of the backgrounds are not detailed enough in my opinion, although sometimes they put in some nice real life details like an Andre the Giant sticker on a light pole or Sugar in the Raw packets on a table. But to me there are too many clean lines and solid colors, not enough texture, or grit. You want this new york city to be real nasty like Ralph Bakshi had in HEAVY TRAFFIC and STREET FIGHT, all those paintings and collages had a messy chaos to them that you can’t really capture with clean computer lines.
God damn fuckin computers.
I don’t know, maybe it was an intentional artistic choice but I suspect it was more a sacrifice they had to make in order for two identical looking dudes to make a cartoon feature all by themselves without spending, like, twenty five years. The same could be said for the voices. The older cop was perfect, some of the others were too goofy or hard to understand. Also some scenes have some pretty unnatural computery lookin movement (maybe because of the software they created to make the animation easier) but I mean I’m not that much of a twit I’m not gonna get too picky about that.
See I was willing to forgive the low budget animation because it’s great to see a couple of twins using the cartoon type medium in new ways. Unlike Final Fantasy it’s a story that couldn’t just as easily be done in live action, but it’s also not following all the other cartoon formulas. To me anything that can add variety to this particular medium is worthwhile. I mean for all the making fun of Disney that Shrek did, it sure was exactly like every fuckin Disney movie I ever seen. Lovable celebrity voiced creature with cartoon sidekick from Mulan goes on quest, falls in love with princess in fairy tale world, makes modern references which pass as humor aimed at the adults in the audience. MISSING PERSONS is not another “it’s exactly like Disney but it’s not Disney” movie, and it’s especially not a “it’s not like Disney, ’cause it has tits!” thing like that gawd awful “SPAWN” tv show or “HEAVY METAL 2000.”
No, this is more in the category of WAKING LIFE (which I never saw, but I heard about it once) or WAVE TWISTERS. The category of the low budget independent picture that uses animation as a medium to achieve a particular vision, instead of as an easy route to your wallet.
But I guess I wouldn’t recommend MISSING PERSONS to most people, because I don’t think most of the audience was willing to look past the animation (or maybe they just don’t like stories about a guy that gets shot in half and survives). I saw at least 7 people walk out, and one dude turning in his ballot afterwards said “I need to punish that guy somehow for what he put me through.”
I liked it though. Now that they’ve proved they can make an entire cartoon movie all by themselves, I hope these twins get a little money and a small team of animators and voice actors. If that happens you bet your ass they’ll make something that’ll blow your socks out your ass. Or whatever the saying is.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/12476
If you’ve never followed that link to visit Vern’s site, go do it now. It’s a wonderland of hardcore fucking film criticism, and it makes me smile for days.
View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback
June 11, 2002, 7:49 a.m. CST
by Frank Black
I understand Media Blasters or one of these small distributors has recently acquired the rights to this awesome film.
Takashi Miike and so many other Japanese directors owe so much to Seijun.
It’s art, baby, and Seijun Suzuki is one of the coolest guys ever to have walked this earth.
Can’t wait for the DVD. Almost bought it without subtitles, but after the $80 Brotherhood of the Wolf” 3 disc set, my wife gave me “that” look, and I didn’t. “Brotherhood didn’t have English subtitles either, but who cares?
June 11, 2002, 9:42 a.m. CST
by Tokyo Joe
…is truly a genius. I love his movies. It does however take a while to understand what the fuc*k is going on if you DO happen to watch them without subtitles, even with a fairly decent knowledge of Japanese. I’m looking forward to renting Pistol Opera when it gets out of the NEW section in the video store. I really need a week’s rental to contemplate any of Seijun’s films. They are brilliant and people who walk out obviously thought “Japanese movie+Pistols=Takeshi” Not a chance. Pure surrealist art, absolutley fantastic. And I HAVEN’T YET seen Branded to Kill OR Tokyo Drifter!!
June 11, 2002, 11:42 a.m. CST
Suzuki is one of the greats!
I had the fortune to meet him at a screening of his films at the Nuart Theater in West L.A. a few years ago. I sat down with him and though he didn’t speak english and my japanese is rusty, we were able to communicate. He was honored that I asked him for an autograph, which sits framed along with a calendar from the Nuart showing the events. Quite a prize to have from the master. Looking forward to seeing Pistol Opera. Sounds like another great flick from the great one! Considering that Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter took two weeks to prep, two weeks to shoot and three weeks in post, they’re quite impressive!
June 11, 2002, 12:15 p.m. CST
pistol opera complaints
yeah, it was an interesting movie and a beautifully composed movie.
but it had some terrible acting from the painless surgeon; i mean really horrible acting.
it only had one song as far as i can remember. i liked that song – a nice dubby piece – but it was repeated ad nauseum with no real change, and that got frustrating after a while. an aesthetic exercise, i guess, because i can’t understand why also suzuki would have skimped on the music, but it was a very annoying aesthetic exercise.
the movie also dragged after the first 80 or 90 minutes. i really thought it was brilliant, one of the greatest things i had ever seen, for the first 30 minutes. for the next 30 minutes i still thought it was really good and was just wondering when things would build up. and then it went on… and on… and on… and that was cool in a way, because it was still beautiful in all the ways it had been from the start, but after all that time and all those repeated playings of the one song, it just got tiring.
those scenes with the little girl were a little creepy, too.
June 11, 2002, 1:02 p.m. CST
Man…both of these flicks sound really cool.
by Sod Off Baldric
I wish I lived somewhere cool so I could go to all these film festivals (and if my plans hadn’t fallen through, I would be living in Seattle right now). God damn, do I hate Wisconsin.
June 11, 2002, 1:11 p.m. CST
Like PISTOL OPERA, LOVED the SUICIDE CLUB
Pistol Opera was interesting, had some beautiful and funny scenes, as well as some great Japanese social commentary and great music. but i didn’t love it. SUICIDE CLUB, on the other hand, is absolutely brilliant. i fell totally inlove with this film. dare i say even better than BATTLE ROYALE? yes, i dare say it. oh btw, the RING sucked, but UZUMAKI is fun.
June 11, 2002, 2:25 p.m. CST
Vern’s sight is REALLY worth looking at
by otis von zipper
That guy has a great take on the world. In his recent column he mentions an interesting article called “The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies”. The link went no-where, but a search will find it easily. You may find it funny or you may find it scary, but it is worth reading.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.