Ghost in the Shell (1995)

I am once again living without a car.  It hasn’t been a traumatic life adjustment or anything, but it has limited how much of the city I can conveniently access without it feeling like an epic journey.  It’s also made me realize, once again, how few legitimate movie theaters are currently operating in New Orleans proper.  Ever since most theatrical screenings were exported to the Metairie movie palaces in the 1990s, there have been precious few cinemas operating in the actual city.  I can only name three currently running, and if you’re biking & bussing around the center of town, only two of those are easily accessible; most nights for me, the original uptown location of The Prytania might as well be on another planet.  So, in these dark days when the ludicrously cheap AMC A-List subscription service is miles of interstate out of reach, I am relying heavily on the programmers at The Broad & The Prytania at Canal Place to keep me air conditioned & entertained.  Thankfully, they do a kickass job.

In particular, I’ve been loving the repertory programming at The Canal Place Prytania in recent months.  The Rene Brunet Classic Movie series at their uptown location is the closest thing this city has to a solid rep scene, so it’s been cool to see that NOLA TCM energy flow downriver to their new outpost.  If anything, the downtown location has been much hipper in its curation, including the Wildwood series—a “weekly celebration of daring cinema”—and, more recently, a month-long program of anime classics branded “Anime Theatre.”  I had just caught up with Akira and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie in the few months before the Anime Theatre series started running, and I very much wish I had held out to catch them for the first time on the big screen.  I just never would have assumed the opportunity would present itself so conveniently (except maybe as a glitchy Fathom Events stream out in the suburbs).  Luckily, though, there was still one major blind spot that series could fill for me: the 1995 cyberpunk classic Ghost in the Shell, which was a real treat to see projected big & loud with a fired-up audience of downtown weirdos.

It’s a stain on my honor that I watched the live-action Scarlett Johansson remake of Ghost in the Shell years before seeking out its animated ancestor.  Worse yet, I apparently enjoyed that remake at the time, faintly praising it as “Blade Runner-runoff eye candy” with “a deliriously vapid sci-fi action plot.”  In retrospect, I’m surprised to see how much of that Blade Runner DNA flows through the original film’s synthetic veins.  I assumed the live-action version borrowed a lot of Ridley Scott’s neon-noir imagery as lazy shorthand, but it turns out the anime version of Ghost in the Shell sets a lot of its own moody, “What is humanity anyway?” introspection on the same neon-lit, rain-slicked streets of future-Tokyo.  There’s plenty of RoboCop influence at play here too, not only in the ultraviolence exacted by Ghost in the Shell‘s cyborg law enforcement leads, but also in the first-person POV framing of those cyborgs booting up in a cold, blue world.  The movie was plenty influential in its own time too, to the point where you could argue that The Matrix was actually its first live-action remake – right down to its green towers of binary code.  Watching Ghost in the Shell for the first time felt like finding a crucial, missing piece of a larger genre puzzle.  It helped contextualize other genre works I already love by fitting them into an infinite continuum of sci-fi visual language.

It’s also just gorgeous.  This is brain-hacking cinema of the highest order, much more low-key & philosophical than I expected based on its most lurid imagery.  Yes, these badass cyborg women strip down into flesh-tone body suits before digitally cloaking themselves in reflective pixels, but they look amazing doing it, blurring humanity & technology in the medium itself.  Ghost in the Shell was at the forefront of mixing digital animation with traditional hand-drawn cells, conjuring a new, glitchy spectacle out of their interplay where most future productions would only see cost-saving measures.  It’s through those digi animation experiments where the film manages to feel like its own weird thing despite all the convenient comparisons swirling around it.  The future-world body horror of seemingly human parts opening in segments to reveal the fabricated machinery inside is mirrored in the human/machine hybrid of the film’s animation.  It’s a tension in technique still echoed in contemporary anime, whether thoughtfully in films like Belle or lazily in films like Fireworks.

If I’m not spending much time recapping the themes or plot details of Ghost in the Shell, it’s because I assume most cinema obsessives have already seen it.  This was a behind-the-times educational experience for me, which is pretty much how I always feel when watching classic anime.  The only relatively unique aspect of my Ghost in the Shell experience was the opportunity to see it projected big & loud, thanks to the downtown Prytania.  It was the closing film in their Anime Theatre series, but their kickass repertory programming is marching on into spooky season with their upcoming line-up of Kill-O-Rama double-features, pictured below. In a city with a relatively small cinema exhibition scene, that kind of thoughtful, adventurous curation is invaluable.

-Brandon Ledet

Quick Takes: TV at the Movies

Sometime around the prestige TV era of shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Wire, there was a lot of inane, hyperbolic discourse about how the boundary between television & cinema had become irreversibly blurred. I never bought the argument that modern Event Television had somehow surpassed the artistry of traditional filmmaking, nor do I believe that should even be its goal. My favorite TV shows tend to be the kind of disposable, episodic entertainment that can only exist in that medium: reality competition shows like Project Runway, animated sitcoms like Tuca & Bertie, clips-of-the-week roundups like The Soup (R.I.P.), etc. I will concede that the modern straight-to-streaming movie distribution model has blurred the distinction between television & cinema, though, if only by making it so the old made-for-TV, movie-of-the-week format now outnumbers how many traditional films get theatrical distribution on a weekly basis. It’s the non-stop need for fresh streaming #content that’s making movies more like television, not some new Golden Age of high-quality TV shows that take 30 hours to tell a decent, self-contained story that could be wrapped up in 100 minutes or less.

If there’s any clear sign that the boundary between television & cinema has become blurred, it’s in the mundanity of modern “The Movie” versions of TV shows. When I was a kid, it felt like a major event when popular TV shows like Pokémon, The Simpsons, and Jackass graduated from the small screen to grander, theatrical “The Movie” versions of their formats. In 2022, the distinction feels arbitrary. In the past month, I’ve seen three “The Movie” versions of TV shows that I love, and none felt especially ceremonious, or even worthy of a standalone review. I did enjoy all three, but they all felt more like good television than great cinema. Here’s a quick review of each, with some thoughts on how they blur the line between the two mediums.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie

Unquestionably, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is the most convincing, traditional “The Movie” version of a TV show I’ve seen this year. Not only was it exclusive to theaters for months before popping up on HBO Max & Hulu (where it has since transformed from TV at the movies to regular TV), but the Loren Borchard-led creative team behind it put in great effort to make it feel like an Event. Throughout the latest season of the show, background characters have been tripping over a dislodged chunk of sidewalk in front of the titular burger restaurant, teasing the giant sinkhole that opens the main conflict of the film. A lot of money was also poured into ensuring there was more depth & detail in the actual animation of the movie to distinguish it from the show, even if most of that effort was just adding shadows to its usual look.

I expected The Bob’s Burgers Movie would escalate the show’s occasional song & dance numbers to a full-blown movie musical, but instead it stays true to their usual rhythms. Structurally, it feels just like a 100min episode of the animated sitcom, stretching the special-occasion ceremony of a season finale to a night-long Event. Everything I love about the Bob’s Burgers show is sharply pronounced in the film; it delivers rapid-fire puns & punchlines, its sprawling cast of oddball characters are universally loveable, and it can be surprisingly emotional to watch them fail & grow (especially Louise’s arc in this super-sized episode). A lot of what justifies its graduation to movie-scale pomp & circumstance is just its length and that added layer of shadows, but both really do go a long way.

Downton Abbey: A New Era

If there’s any film that challenges my snobbish distinctions between film & television, it’s Downton Abbey: A New Era, the sequel to 2019’s Downton Abbey: The Movie. While The Bob’s Burgers Movie justifies its medium jump from television to the big screen in the quality of its animation, there is absolutely nothing that visually distinguishes the Downton Abbey movies from their seven seasons of televised build-up. The main draw of these films is that you get to revisit all of the Upstairs/Downstairs characters you love for another couple episodes of wealth-porn soap opera, except now with a theater full of likeminded costume drama nerds who laugh & sniffle in unison instead of watching it under a cozy blanket (assuming, again, that you caught the latest installment in theaters instead of waiting for it to pop up on the Peacock app, where it has been downgraded to TV again).

As much as the Downton Abbey movies feel like more-of-the-same episodic television, I still have to admit that A New Era was one of my most emotionally satisfying trips to the movie theater all year. I was either laughing or crying for the entire runtime, so there’s no reason why this shouldn’t land near the top of my “Top Films of 2022” list, except that I consider it more TV than cinema, which makes me a bit of a snob. I would be fine with the series ending with A New Era, since it’s come full circle to just being Gosford Park without the murder mystery again, but I’ll keep tuning in forever if it keeps going (if not only to see the continued adventures of John Molesey, the unlikeliest of late-series MVPs). It’s good TV.

Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe

The new Beavis and Butthead movie knows exactly where it falls on television/cinema divide. It pretends to scale up its usual airheaded slacker premise with some sci-fi gimmickry at its bookends (joining the multiverse craze headlined by Everything Everywhere and the new Doctor Strange), but everything in-between those brief scenes is just more-of-the-same retreading of the original show. When it’s not a sci-fi action comedy starring the galaxy’s two unlikeliest heroes, Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe mostly plays like a less funny version of the (excellent, underrated) 2011 reboot season of the show, where our favorite knuckleheads adapt to a world of smartphones & “woke” politics. It’s still very funny, though, and its disinterest in growth or change is obviously a large part of the joke.

Beavis and Butthead already had a proper “The Movie” escalation of its premise in 1996’s Beavis & Butthead Do America, so there’s really nothing a straight-to-Paramount+ follow-up to the show needs to accomplish except to be funny. It was the least rewarding film out of this trio for me, but it’s also the one that best understands the function of movie addendums to television shows in the modern streaming era. “The Movie” versions of TV shows don’t need to elevate their medium to the holy mountain of cinematic prestige; they just need to give their fans a little more time with the characters they love, and to deliver a few solid laughs.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Mad God (2022) & The Overlook Film Festival

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and guest Bill Arceneaux discuss a selection of high-style, high concept horror films that screened at this year’s Overlook Film Fest, starting with Phil Tippett’s psychedelic stop-motion nightmare Mad God (2022).

00:00 Welcome

01:50 Mad God (2022)

29:15 The Overlook Film Festival
35:20 Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2022)
44:05 Nosfera2 (2022)
1:01:31 Deadstream (2022)
1:15:22 Swallowed (2022)
1:27:57 Hypochondriac (2022)
1:33:22 Piggy (2022)
1:37:53 Flux Gourmet (2022)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Mad God (2022)

By the time Phil Tippett’s stop-motion freak show Mad God closed this year’s Overlook Film Festival, it was up against a towering wall of anticipation – not just from over the weekend but from decades of production delay.  The finished product was very divisive in the room.   It was my favorite movie I saw all festival, while the lovely chap I was chatting with in line on the way in said it was his absolute worst.  Teasing out his reasons for despising it, it sounded like he experienced Mad God purely as a for-its-own sake immersion in scatological mayhem, with no meaning or emotion behind its non-stop, nonsensical gore gags.  He also had no idea what the movie was about or how it was made before the screening started, other than it was one of the more hyped titles on the program.  Knowing Mad God’s backstory as an abandoned project from the early 90s that was recently completed through horror nerd crowdfunding on Kickstarter, I found it to be an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  We’re probably both at least a little bit right.

There’s no spoken dialogue in Mad God, nor is there a discernible narrative.  It’s a movie built entirely on nightmare logic, where one bizarre event mutates into another with no strict reasoning behind the progression. It’s mostly an animated experiment in scale.  A faceless soldier with no discernible personality or inner life follows his mysterious master’s marching orders to explore a post-apocalyptic hellscape populated by specimen-jar freaks of all shapes & sizes.  It’s like the unexplained, awesomely scaled Space Jockey reveal in 1979’s Alien repeated over & over again as our faceless, soulless protagonist explores dank hellpits populated by grotesque monstrosities big & small.  The scale of these hideous creatures’ violence also varies wildly, from petty squabbles over who has to shovel the shit of the bigger monsters that tower above them to real-life footage of nuclear blasts.  Phil Tippett did not work on the special effects for Alien, but he did work on other beloved genre classics like Star Wars, Robocop, and Starship Troopers.  If Mad God is “about” anything in particular, it’s about displaying the full dark magic of what his stop-motion wizardry can do on-screen.  The clay soldier is more of a starting point than a proper protagonist, as the movie has more to say about Tippett’s adventures in the industry than it does that disposable, replaceable explorer.

The story goes that Tippett began working on Mad God while doing the animated effects for Robocop 2 in the early 90s.  When he was subsequently hired for special effects work on Jurassic Park, he was convinced that the stop-motion medium was an inevitable dead end, soon to be replaced by animatronic sculpture & CGI.  The project was then shelved for three decades until younger collaborators in love with his traditionalist techniques convinced Tippett to complete the abandoned project.  Smartly, he appears to have left the original, shot-on-film footage from the project’s early days mostly untouched.  The first half is like a lost artifact from an era when artists like Dave McKean, the Quay Brothers, and Jan Švankmajer ruled over a steampunk hellworld that’s since been paved over by brightly lit computer graphics.  The original footage ends with the clay explorer being decommissioned & dismantled, and we cut to modern digital footage of fellow genre filmmaker Alex Cox (as a wizardly Tippett surrogate) plucking an identical, soulless soldier from his vast, unanimated supply to send on another mission in new dank hellpits with new grotesque monsters haunting them – now in crisp HD.  Tippett marks the passage of time between these bifurcated segments with repeated images of clocks, candles, death, and rebirth.  In the tension between its two parts, it becomes a self-reflective story about the resilience of personal creativity.  As an artist he has no choice but to keep sending his little soldiers out into the cruel world, hoping one of them one day completes their mission.

Mad God is meticulously designed to either delight or irritate.  It’s especially grating in its soundtrack’s relentless use of crying babies & ticking clocks, making a large contingent of the audience wish the term “Silent Cinema” was literal.  You can count me among the awed freaks in the room who never wanted the nightmare to end, though, especially since I doubt I’ll ever have the chance to see it projected on the big screen again.  Catching Mad God at Overlook was vital, even though it will soon be streaming on Shudder in a more accessible, affordable presentation.  I don’t know that I’d have the mental willpower to watch the entire runtime without glancing at my phone when it’s available to stream at home, but in that theater I was outright mesmerized.  It’s a spell that doesn’t work on everyone, but it’s a powerful source of creative dark magic if you can open yourself up to it.  Knowing the backstory of how it was made might be an essential part of that receptiveness, but it’s a stunning work of visual art no matter the context.

-Brandon Ledet

Petite Ourse

In the opening minutes of the coming-of-age fantasy Turning Red, I was crushed by the stomach-pit realization that the movie was Not For Me.  Overwhelmed by the sugar-rush hijinks of the soon-to-be-ursine heroine introducing all of her goofball friends & personality quirks in rapid, smooth-surface CG animation, I nearly ejected the DVD and rushed it back to the library in panicked defeat.  I’m mostly glad I stuck it out.  I understand that Pixar is respected as the current high standard of children’s media, but I’m too disconnected from the comedic sensibilities & visual artistry of modern computer animation to distinguish the gold from the pyrite.  It all looks & feels the same.  Still, I did appreciate Turning Red as life-lesson messaging for little kids, who are ostensibly Pixar’s target audience even if they’re not the pundits tweeting hyperbolic praise for the studio.  The last couple Disney animations I remember watching (Coco & Encanto) taught kids to obey & forgive Family at their own expense; Turning Red directly conflicts that poisonous wisdom, encouraging children to rebel & grow into their own individual selves no matter how uncomfortable it makes their parents.  It also frankly discusses menstruation and the other bodily changes of puberty, which feels remarkable & commendable for a film with such a young target audience (even if they’re discussed through the same talking-animal fantasy device that accounts for most modern mainstream animation). Both of these life lessons—that your personal autonomy & chosen community matter more than your family’s wishes and that the daily functions of your body are nothing to be ashamed of—inspired mini online nontroversies among Conservative parents when the film first hit Disney+ a couple months ago, which is how I know that it’s a special work even though it superficially resembles so much mediocre #content in the same medium.  Turning Red might not be For Me, but I respect that it’s a genuine good in the lives & brains of the young people whom it is for.

I normally wouldn’t criticize a film I didn’t expect to enjoy from the outset, but there is one moment from Turning Red that has stuck with me in the way it recalls the premise of a recent film that was For Me.  Throughout Turning Red, a 13-year-old mama’s girl struggles to distinguish her own personality from the expectations of her supportive but overbearing mother, an already complex dynamic that’s further complicated by both the mother & daughter transforming into gigantic red pandas when they get too emotional.  Within their climactic panda fight that threatens to destroy downtown Toronto (or at least ruin a well-attended boy band concert in downtown Toronto), they finally connect on an intimate, honest level – meeting in a calm, psychic space represented by a dense forest.  In that forest, the daughter encounters a younger version of her mother when she was 13 and emotionally struggling, comforting her until she regresses from her angry panda state.  That moment is strikingly similar to the latest Céline Sciamma picture Petite Maman, in which an 8 year old girl meets & comforts the 8 year old version of her own mother in the woods behind the mother’s childhood home.  The mother-daughter dynamic in Sciamma’s film is more distanced than combative, but the conflict is resolved in the exact same way first-time director Domee Shi approaches it in Turning Red.  If I were a more well-rounded audience (or, more likely, if I were just a parent), I’d be able to enjoy Turning Red & Petite Maman as unlikely sister films that happened to approach generational bonding & maternal conflict through a similar time-travel fantasy device.  Instead, that momentary flash of Petite Maman-style calm in Turning Red only further contrasted Shi’s style against Sciamma’s in my mind, and it only made it clearer that my preferences are heavily weighted to the serener end of that scale.

Petite Maman is quietly magical & emotionally complex.  It’s not Sciamma’s best, but it does touch on everything that makes her work great (especially the observational childhood growing pains of Water Lilies, Tomboy, Girlhood, and My Life as a Zucchini, as well as the tragic limitations of time in Portrait of a Lady on Fire) without ever making a big show of it.  While Turning Red frantically runs in circles making sure every image & moment is exciting! wacky! and fun!, Petite Maman isn’t in a rush to say or do anything.  A young girl magically time-travels to become close friends with a younger version of her mother, but the resulting events of that miracle aren’t especially flashy nor thrilling: play acting, making crepes, having a sleepover, decorating a tree house, etc.  I’m not saying that low-key, understated approach is inherently better or more virtuous than the frantic talking-animal hijinks of Turning Red; it just happens to be my tempo.  That’s likely because it calls back to a calmer style of live-action children’s media from my youth like The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and The Secret of Roan Inish that doesn’t have many modern equivalents in a post-Pixar world.  It’s funny that the one moment when Turning Red slows down to match that tempo, it happens to depict a scene straight out of the woodland mother-child time travel premise of Petite Maman.  I don’t know that most kids would have the patience to sit with that quiet, unrushed magic while reading subtitled dialogue for the length of a feature film (only a slim 73 minutes in Petite Maman‘s case), but it’s nice to know that it still exists somewhere in modern mainstream children’s media, even if only for a brief reprieve.

There is no reason to pit these two movies about magical mother-daughter relationship repair against each other.  Even Céline Sciamma sees the value in Domee Shi’s more chaotic, hyperstimulating storytelling style.  In a recent LA Times interview, Sciamma acknowledges that “Pixar’s latest resonates with Petite Maman as a part of a matriarchal mythology finally coming to fruition in cinema as more women are able to tell their own stories.”  She says, “A film about the libido of kids is so politically bold.  And [Turning Red is] so tender in the release it gives to kids about friendship, about their hearts.  It’s an important film.  If I had seen it at 10 years old, it would have been my favorite film.  I would have been obsessed with it. […] I’ve already seen it three times.  I keep telling people to watch it, especially if you have a kid in your life.”  Personally, I’m surprised that I made it through Turning Red just the once, but I do agree that its political boldness & emotional tenderness is commendable.  That same interview also notes that Sciamma’s film almost resembled Turning Red even more, explaining, “Initially Sciamma was certain Petite Maman should be an animated feature.  The locations and otherworldly aspects, she believed, would lend them to be hand-drawn.  Also, she thought, an animated version could prove more democratic for children if dubbed to avoid subtitles.”  I’m glad that she backed away from the animation sphere, even though it would have been more accessible to younger audiences.  Not only does Sciamma’s insistence that Petite Maman works better as a tangible “ghost story with real bodies” ring true, but if there were a hand-drawn animated feature out around the same time as the sugary CG hijinks of Turning Red, I would have been a much, much harsher in my contrarian comparisons of their merits & themes.  I should likely stop trying to see the magic most audiences see in Pixar, since I’m just not getting it, but if Sciamma is among its enthusiasts, the problem must be with my eyes & ears, not the content.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #158 of The Swampflix Podcast: Perfect Blue (1997) & Anime Basics

Welcome to Episode #158 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss a grab bag of classic anime films, starting with Satoshi Kon’s technophobic psych thriller Perfect Blue (1997).

00:00 Welcome

00:48 Ambulance (2022)
04:40 Aline (2022)
15:40 The Fear (1995)
20:40 Catwoman: Hunted (2022)

23:40 Perfect Blue (1997)

48:40 Princess Mononoke (1997)
1:04:46 Akira (1988)
1:17:50 Vampire Hunter D (1985)

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew

The Spine of Night (2021)

There’s a character design in The Spine of Night that I swear was animated to look exactly like Sean Connery in Zardoz.  That should be a strong indicator of the genre-nerd waters this film treads, whether or not the reference was intentional.  A rotoscoped throwback to retro D&D fantasy epics like Wizards, Gandahar, and Heavy Metal, The Spine of Night is a for-its-own-sake aesthetic indulgence on the artistic level of a metal head doodling in the margins of their high school notebook.  If you’re not the kind of audience who thinks giant tits & giant swords make a badass pairing—especially when airbrushed on the side of a van—the movie will not offer much to win you over.  Its story is consistently thin & disposable, but it’s just as consistently good for flashes of metal-as-fuck imagery from scene to scene (“swamp magic,” beheadings, galloping horse skeletons, etc.).

The Spine of Night‘s voice cast is packed with always-welcome celebrity contributors: Patton Oswalt, Richard E. Grant, Joe Manganiello, Larry Fessenden, Betty Gabriel, etc.  I can only claim to have recognized a few of those voices without an IMDb cheat sheet, but the only contribution that really matters is the novelty of hearing Lucy Lawless voice a warrior princess in the 2020s.  She’s a perpetually naked swamp witch, the spiritual leader of her people, and a fearless warrior who unites oppressed communities from many disparate lands & eras to stop a power-hungry sorcerer from using magic for his own selfish, world-conquering ends.  At least, that’s the gist of what I picked up between all the beheadings & disembowelings that the movie’s actually interested in illustrating, with only the vaguest whisper of a plot reverberating onscreen amidst the gory mayhem.

I’m not entirely convinced by the visual majesty of the rotoscope animation showcased here, which I feel like is the entire point of the production.  The crisp, flat line work makes the characters less visually interesting than the detailed backdrops they disrupt (Zardoz references notwithstanding), which feels like a major problem.  There’s something clunky & leaden about the way they move too, as if the original footage they were traced over was accidentally slowed down a touch in the editing process.  Still, I’m enough of a sucker for heavy metal badassery to give the film a pass for what it is: bong rip background fodder.  There are plenty of “adult” animation curios from the 70s & 80s that enjoy ongoing cult-classic status for serving that same superficial function, so why not throw one more on the fire? The Spine of Night is not even the best nostalgic throwback to that era of fantasy animation from last year, though; that niche honor belongs to Cryptozoo.  It’ll have to settle for just being the more gleefully violent of the pair.

-Brandon Ledet

The House (2022)

Netflix has a habit of quietly dropping substantial, worthwhile art onto its streaming platform without any promotion or fanfare, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been as surprised by one of its dead quiet in-house releases as I was by The House.  The only reason this stop-motion anthology caught my eye is that one of its three segments was directed by the animators of This Magnificent Cake! (Emma De Swaef & Marc James Roels), and I recognized the visual trademarks of their work on the thumbnail poster.  Otherwise, I haven’t seen much official promotion or social media hoopla signaling the film’s uneventful release this month, at least not without looking for it directly.  And when I search for reviews & press releases covering The House, different sites appear to be in conflict about what it even is.  Netflix lists it as a one-time “special”.  IMDb & Rotten Tomatoes list it as a three-episode season of a supposedly ongoing “series” (likely because its three segments are credited to three different sets of animators).  Meanwhile, review sites like AV Club & RogerEbert.com are treating it as a standalone feature film.  That’s the category that registers as correct to me, given that it’s contained in one 97min presentation with no rigid episode breaks.  Still, I do think the general confusion about its format is indicative of Netflix’s constant, apathetic flood of #content with no attention paid to the promotion or artistic value of anything that’s not going to earn the company Oscars or Emmys.

A large part of the reason The House holds together as a standalone feature film is that all three of its segments were penned by a single screenwriter, Enda Walsh.  As the tones & visual styles shift between each segment’s separate animation teams (De Swaef & Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza), Walsh maintains a strong narrative core throughout as the central authorial voice.  The House is a darkly funny stop-motion anthology about a cursed house’s journey through different eras of doomed owners.  Divided between the past, the present, and the future of the ornate structure, each set of its owners are working class rubes who are mesmerized by its opulence & grandeur, convinced that it will bring wealth & social status into their lives with just a little hard work & determination.  Each segment ends with the lesson-learned punchline of a centuries-old ghost story or fairy tale, with the owners’ obsession with the house inevitably absorbing them into its walls & bones.  It all amounts to a pretty relatable horror story about how “owning” a house basically means a house owns you – something that debt-saddled Millennials should be able to recognize as a real-world truth, anyway. 

As with all horror anthologies, The House varies in quality from segment to segment.  De Swaef & Roels open the film on its strongest, eeriest footing, while the hopeful note Baeza concludes with feels like its weakest step.  Between those bookends, there’s a great wealth of gorgeous animation, dark humor, and melancholy.  De Swaef & Roels have the most distinct visual style of the batch (working with the same textured felts & beading that distinguished This Magnificent Cake!), while von Bahr & Baeza both play with the taxidermy-in-motion style of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Overall, it’s Walsh’s consistency in theme & tone that holds the film’s structure together as a convincing, satisfying whole.  I found this film just as visually & narratively impressive as any animation project I’ve seen in the past couple years, and yet its release has been so barebones that professional media critics can’t even decide whether it’s a Film at all.  Maybe I’ll be embarrassed next year when a Season 2 of The House is released on Netflix and my miscategorization is confirmed, but in all likelihood I wouldn’t even be aware a follow-up exists at all.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Paprika (2006)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss the psychedelic sci-fi anime Paprika (2006), an explosively imaginative movie about shared dreams from the genius Satoshi Kon. 

00:00 Welcome

00:40 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
05:15 #swampboox
11:52 Pig (2021)
14:10 There’s Someone Inside Your House (2021)
17:24 The MCU
19:02 The Paper Tigers (2021)
24:30 We Need to Do Something (2021)
27:52 The Medium (2021)
31:00 All Light Everywhere (2021)
33:50 Benedetta (2021)
36:08 Jumbo (2021)
38:40 Mandibles (2021)
40:16 Cryptozoo (2021)

43:27 Paprika (2006)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Cryptozoo (2021)

I struggle with parsing out how sincerely to take Dash Shaw’s movies.  Both his debut feature, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, and its follow-up, Cryptozoo, present a bizarre clash of far-out psychedelia in their animation & laidback aloofness in their storytelling.  His hand drawn 2D characters casually stroll through apocalyptic crises rendered in expressive, kaleidoscopic multimedia meltdowns.  Meanwhile, their personalities are decidedly inexpressive, mumbling about their often-inane internal conflicts in apparent obliviousness to the chaos around them.  Cryptozoo at least pushes that internal fretting into bigger questions about the ethical & political conflicts of its psychedelic fantasy world.  It’s just difficult to determine how much those conflicts are intended to be taken seriously vs how much are an ironic joke about the film’s own sprawling, convoluted mythology.  Shaw’s films are never boring to look at, though, even if his characters appear to be bored within them.  His visual playfulness is a quality that’s increasingly difficult to find in modern animation, questions of sincerity be damned.

As the title alludes, Cryptozoo is an animated fantasy film about a futuristic zoo for cryptids: dragons, unicorns, sasquatches, gorgons, etc.  The battlefield for its central conflict is a world where cryptids are suddenly plentiful but violently distrusted by the general human public – X-Men style.  The warring factions in discerning how humans should relate to these mythical creatures are “conservationists” who want to centrally locate the cyptids in a Disney World-like “zoo” and militarists who want to deploy them as biological weapons.  It’s a distinctly capitalist paradigm, where every single resource—including living creatures—must serve one of two purposes: money or military.  The warmongers are obviously the “bad guys” in that debate, but the supposed “sanctuary” alternative of the cryptozoo must earn enough money to stay afloat, which leads to the cryptids’ captivity & exploitation in an amusement park setting by the supposed “good guys”.  This convoluted mythology is debated in solemn, conversational tones while extravagant, badass illustrations of the cryptids themselves roar in the background.  How seriously you’re supposed to take those debates and how meaningful their themes are outside the confines of the film are a matter of personal interpretation, something I’ve yet to settle on myself.

Part of my struggle with how sincerely relate to Cryptozoo might be a result of viewing it through a modern-animation context, where I’m comparing it against other recent psychedelic oddities like The Wolf House, Violence Voyager, and Night is Short, Walk on Girl.  Despite its crudely layered multimedia approach to animation, the film is more likely spiritually aligned with fantasy films of the 1970s & 80s – titles like Heavy Metal, Wizards, and Gandahar.  In that era, animated fantasy epics were all intensely sincere allegories about pollution, prejudice, and ethnic genocide.  Cryptozoo‘s messaging is a little more resistant to 1:1 metaphor, but I’ll at least assume that its musings on the corrupting force of capitalism is politically sincere.  It’s a little hard to immediately latch onto that sincerity when your film opens with a nudist stoner voiced by Michael Cera being gored by a unicorn, but that doesn’t mean the entire resulting conflict is meant to be taken as a joke.  Realistically, the only reason I’m putting this much consideration into its dramatic sincerity at all is because the imaginative color-pencil drawings that illustrate its conflicts are objectively badass, making the rest of the film worth contending with instead of outright dismissing as stoner nonsense.  I’m buying what Dash Shaw is selling, though I’m still not sure why.

-Brandon Ledet