Animator David O'Reilly

Yesterday, I'd never heard of a German computer animator named David O'Reilly. Now, I'm all full of respect for his talent. Here are 2 reasons why.

The External World is a deadpan comedy, similar to Roy Andersson's work (Songs From the Second Floor) but done with computer animation. Various isolated moments that create a mosaic of a city in constant despair. Funny, twisted despair. O'Reilly exploits the glitches in computer animation and its numerous forms (mostly taken from Nintendo style video games) and builds his comedy around them.

That Andersson deadpan is then filtered through a crude sensibility. I'm generally not a fan of crude humor, but it mostly works here. He's not using the blood, sex and potty humor to shock or provoke but to match the crudeness of the animation. It's a reflection on this type of humor that wouldn't work at all in live action. This is definitely not for kids and a risky venture for adults too. I feel like I should give some examples since I recommending it so highly. A woman slashes her wrists in a bathtub and a cheerful avatar steps into the tub to take a shower, oblivious of the woman. There's an intermission featuring an avatar in blackface who talks in a stereotyped jewish accent. Neither is done to be offensive but to play up how easily offended we can get at these images. He also says the priceless non-sequitur "and I found out the hard way that even turtles have vaginas."

Watch it Here

Please Say Something tells of an abusive relationship between a cat and a mouse. Played serious and emotionally complex, O'Reilly again uses the deliberately crude animation very much to the benefit of the piece. Reminded me of what David Lynch was able to do with the lo-def look of Inland Empire, but that's the only thing this film shares with Lynch. The unusual animation touches fit into the story perfectly. This is the kind of project I would expect if Gondry or Spike Jonze got their hands on computer animation. Reminded me a lot of Jonze's I'm Here, about two robots in love. Some painful emotions and great sentiment drawn from an unlikely, absurd premise. Unlike The External World, the film is made for adults but not caked with puerile behavior.

Watch it Here

Why I Love Emil Jannings

I am more partial to over-the-top scenery chewing than understatement. I'm looking at my Top 100 Performances and ones considered to be underplaying are usually done in a larger than life way. My favorite movie is The Godfather and my favorite director is Sergio Leone, so it makes sense that I'm so in love with watching Emil Jannings. As of last night's double feature I've seen 4 Jannings performances and his most subtle work was as Mephisto in Faust, which says a lot. The Last Laugh is my #87 film of All Time, mainly for the brilliant double team of Jannings and Murnau. Last night I watched The Blue Angel.

The Blue Angel
* * *

I always knew this as a star vehicle for Marlene Dietrich. Didn't even know Jannings was in it, let alone that he was the true star. It starts out okay, with a rather obvious (now) cautionary tale about falling in love with a cabaret girl. Dietrich is given the spotlight for most of the film. Director Josef von Sternberg presents her with a casual attitude towards men and a sexuality that is tantalizing in a happily sinful way. I've seen Dietrich in a couple of other films where her acting was better, but here it's that personality on full display. I especially love her reaction to Janning's proposal of marriage. She's not making fun of him, she's genuinely flattered and aware that her assets will not sustain her through life.

There's a great scene after the Professor and the Showgirl are married that shows this is not going to last and the film is not going to end well. Here both actors are working at equal strength. It reminded me of the calm center scene between Jared Leto and Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream before everything goes to hell. It's here that von Sternberg sifts his attention from Dietrich to Jannings and he takes off like a monster let off the chain.

The final section of The Blue Angel is a marvel of performance, done mostly through Janning's amazing face. There's no denying this walrus of a man loves to act. He loves putting on the makeup and pouring everything out of his face and frame. While his characters often are destroyed during the course of the film, Jannings shows great exuberance while leaping headfirst into hellfire. The performance ends up every bit as good as in The Last Laugh and the final shot which uses Janning's body but not his face is p-e-r-f-e-c-t. von Sternberg should get the credit for it as well as the moody lighting of the finale, but I was in performance ecstasy over Jannings. I had to watch another one right away. So I went into IMDB and found...

The Last Command
* * *

Also by Josef von Sternberg, this is the film that - along with the lost film The Way of All Flesh - won Jannings the Best Actor Oscar. It's much more focused on Jannings, though I was excited to see a young William Powell and an actress every bit as energetic as Jannings, Evelyn Brent. The plot is gimmicky with Jannings playing a former Russian general now working as a background artist in Hollywood. There's an elaborate set-up/trap in the climax that doesn't quite work (along with a final line that's a complete 180 for one character.) The bulk of the movie is a flashback of Jannings fall in Russia.

The Last Command is more consistently entertaining than The Blue Angel, but the melodrama plays more like a writer's idea than something organic. It lacks the simple Tragedy of The Blue Angel. It's also very strange to watch Jannings fall from grace for two films in a row, though he does give two very different performances, neither of which is like his descent in The Last Laugh. So, even if he plays this character type in 10 more films I feel I could easily watch all 10 of them. Someone asked me "Any examples of really melodramatic acting, which are more to your taste?" My answer is Emil Jannings. Emil Jannings. Emil Jannings.


The Top Directors Working Today

  • Click for Main Menu The Top Directors Working Today
  • The Top Directors Working Today: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

    Man I love the worlds created by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. His camera floats, darts and zooms in on anything it pleases, finding merriment and magic from unlikely sources. Most every Great director has a stamp of authorship, and it only takes a few minutes to realize you're swimming in Jeunet's pool.

    Looking through his filmography, I realize that I only really liked 2 of his films. (DELICATESSEN and AMELIE) I find that his storytelling could benefit with more focus, a tighter grip. But I wouldn't think of missing anything he makes... and I'm talking Big Screen, baby. His name on a film doesn't guarantee Greatness, but I have no doubt that he's a Great filmmaker.

    [NOTE: It's worth mentioning that 2 of his films were co-directed with Marc Caro, but I think the films that followed continued to speak volumes about his skill.]

    According to the poll I posted on Filmspotting...

    25% think he's Great director but wouldn't put him in the Top 10.
    20% think he's very good, not quite Great.
    40% think he's worth mentioning
    10% think he's good, but don't think he'll ever be Great.
    5% see nothing special about his directing.

    I'll never forget the first time I saw anything by Jeunet. It was the trailer for Delicatessen, which was the scene where everyone is doing everything to the same rhythm. The audience applauded after it, the first time I had seen that happen for a movie that wasn't an anticipated blockbuster.

    I think A Very Long Engagement was really good, probably one of the better forgotten films of this decade.

    I think his more recent efforts lack the edge that Marc Caro brought to his earlier films. It's a dynamic I miss and one I think would have made helped make Alien Resurrection a better film. I'm not a huge fan of his light-hearted, cuddly style.