[Good for the] Soul, Pixar Movie

Even if we weren’t in a global pandemic combined with a toxic and scary political climate, Soul, available on Disney+ and rated PG, would have been a wonderful movie. Given that we are stuck in an historic chapter that everyone would like to rip out of the book, Soul means even more. The movie’s messages combined with the color of the cast are significant. The music, humor and animation are amazing. And there’s imagination in spades.

Hon, have you seen it? What did you think?

The best Disney/Pixar animated movies historically straddle the line between delighting children and adults. “Soul,” a Pixar title diverted to Disney+, tilts heavily toward the latter, beautifully exploring ambitious themes about the meaning of life that should resonate more with adults than the younger souls in your streaming orbit.

That warning aside, credit Pixar veteran Pete Docter (“Up” and “Inside Out”) and co-director Kemp Powers (the writer of the play and upcoming movie “One Night in Miami”) with an addition to Pixar’s library worthy of its classics. While the movie might not have been a commercial slam dunk, it’s hard not to admire a premise that dares to tackle such lofty ideas as life after death and what makes living worthwhile, as filtered through the hopes and dreams of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx).

A middle-school music teacher, Joe has spent his life yearning to make it as a musician, pursuing gigs at the expense of his career. When the opportunity suddenly presents itself to live out those dreams, his distracted glee leads to his untimely demise — a real bummer, considering that he had just said he “could die a happy man” if he got to play with the musician that had offered him the chance.

Awakening on the escalator to the hereafter, Joe makes a desperate break to go back, leading to a fairly amusing tour of what the great beyond might resemble. While that animation is customarily lush, the actual character design of the “souls” is rounded and simple — a bit like the Poppin’ Fresh doughboy, only a slightly eerie shade of blue.

In the process, Joe encounters a young soul in what’s known as The Great Before, 22 (Tina Fey), who has long resisted embarking upon the journey to Earth, despite a hilarious roster of mentors that includes a who’s who of historical figures.

It’s around here where “Soul” really begins to leave small fry behind, unless your preteen is apt to get jokes about George Orwell and Mother Teresa.

Ultimately, Joe and 22 do find their way to Earth, but not in the way (or form) he expected, leading to a madcap series of encounters as he seeks to achieve what he sees as his life’s purpose.


That section of the movie unfolds cleverly enough, but it’s the resolution that really brings the whole idea home. The emotional nature of that experience recalls the opening sequence in “Up,” which silently chronicled a lifetime of love and ultimately loss, leaving many adults in the theater (ah, theaters) sobbing while their kids waited to get to the talking dog and airborne house.

“Soul” also features a wonderful score, since music is fundamental to the story, provided by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with jazz compositions courtesy of Jon Batiste — again, not something likely to be fully appreciated by the tykes on the couch.

Aside from Foxx and Fey, the voice cast includes Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett and Graham Norton and Daveed Diggs.

Of course, the idea of animation tackling big, existential themes is welcome, and the “Soul” creative team deserves enormous credit for the effort. Yet one suspects translating that into the sort of box-office stampede Pixar has enjoyed with movies like the “Toy Story” and “Incredibles” franchises would have been challenging, making the direct-to-streaming gambit less of a financial sacrifice.

Either way, “Soul” is highly recommended — especially to adults who might not be otherwise inclined — and a return to form for Pixar after the less-satisfying “Onward.” Parents wanting to really enjoy it, however, might want to watch at least once without their kids, who, understandably, will be less cognizant of choices made, roads not taken and where their own escalators might lead them.

CNN Entertainment review by Brian Lowry, Thursday, December 24, 2020

Music Video: mxmtoon’s bon iver

mxmtoon, official image

As the creative director for mxmtoon, my daughter Morgan directed the singer’s two latest music videos. “bon iver” is the first track of the “dusk” EP and follows “almost home” (yesterday’s post), the  last track on the “dawn” EP. The two videos transition from dawn to dusk in lighting and atmosphere. Check out the cool animation that accentuates movement and mood.

The singer/songwriter will be revealing more details surrounding the highly-anticipated release over the upcoming weeks, but today mxmtoon has revealed a new single, “bon iver” — her first taste of new music since dawn.

The single continues to show the range of mxmtoon, and comes with an accompanying music video as well. “When we think of nightfall, we often associate it to the ‘end’ of something. The ‘bon iver’ music video is meant to counter that notion, and to spark thought over the possibilities that are ahead instead,” mxmtoon shares on the music video. “A day does not just end when the sun goes down, you continue to find wonder and joy despite the dark, and a whole other world awaits you as the moon glides overhead. New beginnings are not limited to a rising sun, your world is what you make it whenever you choose to begin.”         substreammagazine.com

Click here to read more about mxmtoon, whose name is Maia.
Click here to read about the concepts behind her albums and songs.
Thanks for watching, hon! 

Ghosted, Emotional Live Action & Animated Short Film, Part 2

2020 Maryland International Film Festival – Official Selection
Live action and animation blend fluidly to illustrate heartbreak in an emotional and beautiful work of art.

Morgan discussed the inspiration behind her newest short film GHOSTED, which premiered online as a Vimeo Staff Pick, a featured video on Film Shortage, and is a 2020 Maryland International Film Festival Official Selection.  “A Broken Leg & a Broken Heart Challenges a Woman’s Sanity in Morgan Gruer’s Beautifully Crafted Short ‘GHOSTED’,” is an insightful interview conducted by Serafima Serafimova for Directors Notes. The full interview and a link to watch the video are below.

Thanks for reading and watching, hon!

Ghosted is a story about a girl in love, but it’s not a love story. It’s a story about the pain of fluctuating between early hope and ultimate despair, the intoxicating revelation of love and the slow, crushing realisation that it’s not reciprocated. Based on her personal experience, Morgan Gruer’s Ghosted follows Grace, a twenty-something who has to deal with a broken leg and a broken heart. Perfectly performed, simultaneously serious and light, the short mixes live action and animation to find just the right scale and tone, never trivialising nor overstating the delicate feelings it explores. The result is a compelling and nuanced work of art. We were delighted to chat with Morgan about her inspiration, process and plenty more.

Was there a specific story or experience that sparked the idea for the film?

Ghosted was quite personal! After an unfortunate cliff diving accident (a story for another time…), I found myself on bed rest at my parents’ house recovering from hip surgery. Within the first week of recovery, I was ghosted by the man I loved. His sudden and uncharacteristic disappearance led me down a path of overthinking that escalated as the months dragged slowly on. Ghosted expands on this, as Grace’s circumstances slowly test her sanity and her well-being.

The animation brings the story to life by adding fun flourishes throughout, and that rotoscoped scene at the end is superb! Why did you decide to blend live action and animation, and how did you land on that particular style and design?

Animation has the ability to express a story in a way that is not possible with film, as it can show the way our minds ‘think’ and ‘feel’. Actions can be hyperbolized without the plausibility being questioned. As the film progresses, Grace’s isolation drives her to the deepest, darkest corners of her mind. We wanted to visually show this retreat as a place that felt far from reality, and animation felt like the perfect way to do this.

The animated phone language was actually decided just a few days before the shoot. While our Cinematographer Dustin Supenchek and I were drafting a shot list, we concluded that there was simply no artful way to film an iPhone. Dustin came up with the idea to execute the texts in hand-drawn animation, which ended up being the perfect precursor to the animated scene.

Animation has the ability to express a story in a way that is not possible with film.

Memory sequences are often too cheesy and overdone (a rather off-putting combo!), but you’ve cut together a dreamy montage which feels fresh, sensual and authentic. How did you go about shooting and editing these scenes?

The goal was to visually dissect the accumulation of different memories when our brains overthink. When describing the tone of this scene to our Editor Chad Sarahina I referenced the childhood game of “broken telephone”. If you’re not familiar with the game, you gather a group of people around in a circle and try to whisper the same sentence from ear to ear. The first person may start with “my ear hurts”, but the second person hears “my beer spurts”. The next person hears something different, and by the end, the final sentence is so unrecognizable that you’re not sure how you got there. This seemed like the perfect analogy to over-thinking.

Memories have the ability to bend toward our preferences, unconsciously but selectively choosing what we want to hear or believe. When diving into my memories, I realized that all of the signs of the situation were, in fact, there – I had just chosen to ignore the parts I did not want to hear. The goal with the montage was to peel away the layers of Grace’s selective consciousness and explore what lay underneath.

Grace could be seen as weak and even anti-feminist, yet her vulnerability makes her disarmingly charming and compelling. How did you shape her character to achieve that balance?

We didn’t want to portray Grace as a saint and Nick as a villain. Despite Grace’s affliction over being ignored, she subsequently does the same thing to the people in her life who care about her. After all, life is not black and white; people are not just good or bad. I am more interested in exploring the in-between moments, the grey zone that makes us human.

Our culture often tells us that “strong women don’t need a man”. While capable women don’t necessarily ‘need’ a man, is it anti-feminist for a woman to simply ‘want’ a man? One can be strong and independent but still crave companionship and connection. I don’t think it should be perceived as weak to admit that.

Grace deals with the physical pain of her broken leg as well as the psychological pain of being broken up with, and there are common threads tying the two (feeling trapped, angry, frustrated) into the ultimate parcel of misery. Why did you want to explore this?

During my recovery, I learned that the longer my body was sedentary, the more hyperactive my mind became. It’s ironic, almost – with a physical injury, one is prescribed clean plans of action for recovery. However, when the pain is psychological, there are no doctor’s orders of how to heal; there are no heartbreak pills or routine check-ups. It is harder to admit when you’re hurting, and even harder to learn how to move past it.

I am more interested in exploring the in-between moments, the grey zone that makes us human.

I wanted to explore the relationship between physical and psychological pain as I found it fascinating that their correlation has the ability to work both directly and inversely. I think this relationship is something to keep in mind during our self-isolation amidst the pandemic and remind ourselves that we need to treat our mental wounds the same way we tend to physical ones.

What’s next for you?

I recently completed another short film called Da Sola, that I plan to release in the coming months (a fully animated one!). In the meantime, I’m keeping busy with freelance work, building out my creative studio, and enjoying quarantine with my current man, who has previewed the film and wouldn’t dare ghost me 😉.Thanks for watching, hon!   Serafima Serafimova for Directors Notes. 4/28/20

Vibrant and Infectious Music Video of Dear Sense by Louis the Child

Upbeat Art!

My daughter Morgan directed and animated this music video for Louis the Child’s song, Dear Sense. It’s out of this world-awesome! It’s get-up-and-dance-music, pop color, cool animation, Warhol-esque graphics…all tied together seamlessly. If you want a dose of happy, this is it!

Thanks for watching, hon!

The Decemberists, Music Video

Warning: This video is bizarre and political (and not a reflection of any particular point of view of mine).

So, what’s it doing on Bmore Energy?

  1. My daughter Morgan created the animation and directed the video.
  2. The fantastical animation, combined with black-and-white photos, is mesmerizing.
  3. It’s interesting to explore different ways stories can be told. You might think the video is compelling. Or disturbing. Or just not your cup of tea. I bet if there were a group of people watching the video, each would have a different opinion. Maybe they would discuss their points of view. I’d call that a thought-provoking story.
  4. IT WAS CHOSEN AS A VIMEO STAFF PICK! Wow!

The song Severed is from The Decemberists‘ album “I’ll Be Your Girl,” which is “intermittently political in its own way…it only addresses politics in the broadest sense,” said  Evan Rytlewski  on Pitchfork.com. Instead, the album captures the general frustration with the world right now.

“The Decemberists do a very particular thing – darkly ornate, literary-minded, self-consciously verbose Anglophile prog-folk-rock – exceedingly well,” said  onRollingstone.com. The Decemberists, an American indie rock band from Portland, Oregon, consists of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen.

Related Posts:

Life is Beautiful Music Festival Video

Music Video, The Venus Project-(Won’t Hurt)

“Santa is a Psychedelic Mushroom,” Lapland Folklore

Reflections, Astonishing Animation and Interview with Morgan Gruer

Life is Beautiful Music Festival Video

Music with a Message

I am astonished by the gorgeous, detailed, layered and meaningful art and animation created by Morgan! She directed a promotional video for the Life is Beautiful Music Festival, which will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada September 21-23, 2018. According the festival’s homepage:

Every September we gather in the streets of Downtown Las Vegas to create a world that celebrates the beauty in ourselves and our surroundings.

A world in which music and art transform, positivity prevails, discovery ensues, inspiration overwhelms and creativity thrives.

A world that cannot be explained – it must be experienced.

Lyrics to All Together, the spoken-word poem by In-Q. 

If you’re not inspired by life, you’re not paying attention

Our world is beautiful beyond all comprehension

But we rarely look around

we’re so used to looking down

It can feel heavy when we even lift our heads up off the ground

We get lost inside of crowds

We forget that we belong

That our voices come together in this human song

It’s more than merely right or wrong, it’s learning how to get along

But it’s gets darkest right before the dawn

 

We are the rays emanating from the sun

Because faith is always blind

And the stories that we share become the mirror of our times

Our journeys intertwine, so the reflection is divine

I can see myself inside your eyes

We recognize the truth behind the disguise

Our struggles are the same

We have to celebrate the joy and celebrate the pain

We have to elevate the energy and rise to the task

Because change comes slow, but it happens fast

And since this moment doesn’t last our future is the past

But the answer has to first be asked

 

We call upon the dreamers, and the poets, and

the prophets, and the seekers, let your music reach out from the speakers, let it echo from the bleachers, from the artists to the teachers, from the painters to the preachers,

There is no one that will lead us, we the people are the leaders

And we don’t wanna wait on someone else to change the world

Or pawn it off on the next generation of boys and girls

There is no one that is coming

Because everyone is here

We can be found in the crowd from the sound of a cheer

 

So when it brings us all together

What will we have to say?

When it brings us all together

And the music starts to play

When it brings us all together

How will we own today?

Because life is beautiful

And it’s up to US to keep it that way

“Santa is a Psychedelic Mushroom,” Lapland Folklore

A reindeer calf in Sweden’s Arctic Lapland region. Photo c/o Radio Canada International.

Ever wonder where Santa came from? Why his reindeer fly? Why he comes down the chimney? And where gift-giving originated?
Then check out this extremely cool six and half minute animated video “Santa is a Psychedelic Mushroom, ” written by Matthew Salton and animated by a group of artists, including my daughter Morgan! It was posted on Vimeo and featured online at nytimes.com.
To find out more about Lapland, click here.

Me and Morgan standing in front of a mural she painted.

Breathtaking Beauty, Short Video

Twirl!

Breathtaking Beauty

In my last post Movement and Music, I shared my daughter Morgan’s rotoscoped video. She showed me another rotoscoped video called Disco. It’s stunning!

On his web-site Colossal, Christopher Jobson featured some of the sketches and paintings that were created for the video.

detail-3

detail-4

This new music video for composer Ralf Hildenbeutel’s track Disco was created from over 1,200 individually hand-painted frames. Directed by Boris Seewald, the clip uses an animation technique called rotoscoping to turn the real-life movements of dancers Althea Corlett and Simone Schmidt into a series of drawings and paintings to make each scene. Despite the wild variety of mediums and techniques used in the hundreds of sketches, the frame to frame continuity almost serves to enhance and accentuate the motions of the dancers.

Rotoscoping is a form of animation where live video is translated into hand-drawn animation stills with the help of a projector or transparencies. Some more notable examples from pop culture include several scenes from both of Disney’s Snow White and Peter Pan, or the 1984 music video for Ah Ha’s Take On Me.

Disco was animated by Boris, Mina, and Mihwa Seewald, and filmed by Georg Simbeni. (via Vimeo Staff Picks)

I’m dedicating this post to my mom. She’s terribly ill. The beauty of this video makes me think of her.

Click here or on the title “Disco” above to link to the video.

Happy viewing, Hon!

Sources:  Christopher Jobson on  his site Colossal, http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2016/03/rotoscoped-music-video-boris-seewald-disco/ and Vimeo.