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Book review: Asylum

November 21, 2009 1 comment

This weekend I got the book Asylum: Inside the Clossed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne. I saw a recommendation on Kitzune Noir a few weeks back and I just knew I must have it.

Asylum is a photography album of the inside and outside of many mental hospitals across the United States. The forward, written by neurologist Oliver Sacks, is an interesting review of the entire concept – how it came to be at the beginning of the 18th century and it’s decline after the 1950s. He wrote about the Kirkbride Plan – a special design of the layout of institutes that was meant to promote comfort for patients, but eventually becoming too expensive to maintain. He also discusses how mental hospitals become a place of confinement, rather than a haven.

Payne’s photographs are simply amazing. They show in great detail the outside of hospitals and the inside of wards; untended forgotten gardens and dismal corridors with paint peeling off the walls. Looking at all the abandoned corridors and rooms makes you imagine them busy with strange patients wandering around and doctors tending them. I try to picture people living and working in such a morally questionable environment.

It’s a fascinating book. Browsing it fills me with inspiration and curiosity. I wish there was more stuff to read on this subject, but I guess that’s what Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization is for.

Check out the book’s website: www.asylumbook.com.

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Opeth in Israel

November 12, 2009 1 comment

I think most of my readers don’t know this about me, but I am somewhat of a headbanger, and my favorite band is Opeth. A lot has been said about these amazing guys, so I will write about my impressions from their gig here in Israel.

It was held in Tel Aviv, in a very nice location (Hangar 11, Tel Aviv port). Opeth went on stage and kicked in with Heir Apparent. I swear to Satan, the impact of the first 2 notes was so astounding it made the unlikely hypothesis of the rising of His Unholiness himself and his entire entire Army of Darkness look pale and insignificant in comparison. Unfortunately, this effect did not last long, probably because I got used to the sound and everything. But the show was so great nontheless.

Once Heir was done, they quickly switched to Ghost of Perdition. And after some funnies from Mikael they played The Leper Affinity and White Cluster. During Windowpane Mikael almost swallowed his pick and missed a line, which was quite amusing (and brought many cheers from the audience). I guess he should have thought less on tits and more on playing (referring to his report on what they did at the beach before the show).

I enjoy listening to Mikael between songs. He’s so laid back talking as opposed to playing and singing. After another talk they played The Lotus Eater. Then Mikael decided to suddenly change the plans and play something off setlist, so they did Bleak, which was played fairly well, considering Opeth’s claim they did not rehearse it in a while. After that they played April Ethereal and Reverie/Harlequin Forest.

I think one of the best songs Opeth played that night was Reverie/Harlequin Forest. And Hex Omega. They are both amazing live, even though they’re less heavy than, say, Deliverance, which they played after the encore, and was a pretty good finale to a truly awesome night. Right before Deliverance Frederik astounded everyone with an amazing killer solo.

I really enjoy Mikael’s presence on stage. He doesn’t take things too serious or false pretending. All is fun and games with Opeth, because they know they don’t need the pretension – they prove their seriousness and professionalism through their music.

It’s going to be hard for me to get back to listen to Opeth. Every record now sounds so dull and empty in comparison. Ugh, who am I kidding? I couldn’t resist and popped in Watershed a few minutes ago.

P.S. Thanks Israeli Youtubers for putting some clips online. Most of them really suck because you guys have shitty equipment, but I managed to dig the few decent ones.

Film review: Häxan

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment

This dismal 1922 Danish horror- documentary was a fantastic eye candy.  The film is a study about witch hunts, based on the director’s study of the Malleus Maleficarum (A Latin guide about witches, written by two Inquisitors in the 15th century).

The film starts with an overview of the medieval society in the 15th century Europe and its beliefs in god, Satan, heaven and hell. Then comes the interesting part: Benjamin Christensen, the director, created magnificent dramatizations that illustrate the world of the witches through the eyes of the contemporary people. How one panicked girl so easily convinces an entire village that another person is a witch. How, by means of torment, the suspected witch claims almost all the rest of the villagers are also heretics making deals with the Dark Lord.

Christensen breaks down, through the dramatizations, the entire phenomenon of witch huntings. He shows the tools used to torment the witches and the reason behind some of the techniques, like the infamous trial by drowning: the suspected witch is thrown into the river and if she floats then she’s a witch. If she drowns, she’s not a witch. In any case, the poor woman dies. You can also see throughout the film examples of contemporary habits and manners. For instance, a monk is eating at the table showing crude manners, spilling his gravy all over himself, barfing etc.

I admire the great amount of detail put into the dramatized part of Häxan. In the witch’s hut scenes you can find tools and witchcraft instruments scattered around between piles of hay and dirt. Everything is dark. And the quality of old black & white films adds to the horrific atmosphere similar to other films like Nosferatu and The Man Who Laughs. I think the bad film quality contributes a lot to the “ancient” feeling in this film, especially in comparison to modern cinema technology. Watching silent films, if you have the patience, can be a very rewarding experience. Especially for an enthusiast of morbid entertainment such as myself.

The main idea of the film was to demonstrate how the people back in Medieval Europe lacked any kind of critical thinking skills and how easily they were influenced. And who can blame them? In these times, being a European meant following a strict set of thought and behavior. Being different or even letting others think you have anything to do with Devil worshiping (or anything that hints as going against the Church) would put you on a slow train to the stake with a stop at the local dungeon for some Inquisition fun and games.
I sometimes wonder what had changed since, if at all. Too many people still put their theist beliefs in front of rational thinking, still argue that bad things happen to people because they sinned against God, still relate morality to religion and even worse – connect lack of faith to immorality. I’m not preaching for atheism here but for critical thinking. I’m leaving atheism for another post.

Tekkonkinkreet

September 13, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a 2006 anime feature directed by Michael Arias and animated by Studio 4°C (makers of Beyond from Animatrix).

I got this from my friend Eran. Took me 2 weeks to get around to watch this. But I was busy 😛

The story is about two orphans, Black and White, living in the fictional city of Treasure Town. Black is the tough punk, intolerant towards strangers claiming his city their own (which happens a lot in this movie) and White is the innocent, sometimes touchy one. Together they’re known as the Cats, and they reign terror over their opponents and seem to be the only rightful owners of the city, at least in the beginning.

The exposition was fun. An elaborate chasing scene, including Black and White chase some kids trying to take over the town, street traffic and a giant clock (with cogwheels and everything!).

The protagonists’ names allude to their personalities in almost every way. White is perceived as a cunning partner of Black and later exposes his softer side (he cries when it’s raining, for instance). His devotion to life and creation opposes Black’s tough nature. White is also portrayed as a very independent child. He can’t even get dressed by himself. Although Black displays  independence  and maturity, his reason and morals become corrupted when he is left alone. White’s naivety brings balance to the duo. The differences between Black and White also appear in their clothes. While White, being the innocent and more infantile one wears funny hats, Black wears a belt with pockets, goggles and wrist bandages. He usually gets his gear broken during fights. One scene even had a tribute to Ghost in the Shell when Black’s goggles exploded when the alien tried to smash his face.

The visual aspect of the film is astounding. The scenes are very detailed and the addition of 3D in some parts integrates very well into the overall design. The characters are not drawn in the classical Anime style but in a more simple way which adds a sense of innocence.

One of my favorite scenes was when the police was separating White from Black. White was sitting in the backseat of the car, and the camera rotates 180 degrees as the car is taking off and White crawls back to look at Black, who stands alone in the middle of the road.

A movie I really recommend to anyone.

Animation and Special Effects evening

August 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Reviewing a little late, I know. It was a fun evening, meeting some fellow Animation Mentor schoolmates, and listening to some professional insight on various topics including working methods and animation.

The event occured last Teusday evening (July 28th), at a convention center that belongs to The Council for Beautiful Israel at Tel Aviv.

Amir Green, who is a special effects supervisor for Sony was the first one to lecture. He talked about explotions and special effects. He explained how he worked on the Shadow monster from Inkheart and the last explosion from a Capcom’s Onimusha 3 video.

Dror Lazar gave a fascinating glimps of how he managed to finish an enormous project in 2 days by doing most of the work in After Effects instead of 3dsmax. By making 2D compilations you can save a lot of time on rendering.

Last but not least, Tal Shwartzman a.k.a Jeremy Shaw, showed how he animated 2 shots from DreamWorks’s Monsters Vs. Aliens, how he wanted to incorporate a special hand gesture into one of the shots and how he managed to do so in the last 10 frames. The first shot he talked about was of the news reporter being prompted Gallaxhar wants to speak to the world. Tal used video reference of Tom Brokaw (I think it was that one) and modified the reporter’s acting according to the director’s request. The second shot he was working on was later omited from the final cut of the movie. It depicted Gallaxhar helping the heroes (for some reason) with directions over his spaceship. He wanted Gallaxhar to pull on his sleeve as a secondary motion while giving directions, but it didn’t work right plot-wise. Eventually he managed to put that idea at the very end of the shot. But then it was cut off the film altogether.

Overall, this was a fun evening. Many people showed up and many friends. I hope I get the chance to participate in more evenings like that one.

Balloon cladded Sadness

July 25, 2009 Leave a comment

This headline sums my feelings about Up, the new Pixar feature. Without giving any spoilers, this is a sad movie about a person going through his entire life with his mind set up on fulfilling his childhood dream, but never getting the chance. The rest is just the adventure. And in the middle he realizes the adventure was just the special effects in his life, and the real thing has already happened. Of course the movie wants you to think it’s all about the “adventure” and flying houses and everything.

And now with the spoilers.

The main character is Carl Fredricksen. The movie starts with young Carl, at the end of the 1930s, meeting an amazing girl named Ellie, and they are both having a dream of conquering Paradise Falls in South America, a great scenic peak somewhere in nowhere. Later on they get married and live their life as two small and honest people.

Now Carl is a very sad character, one I felt most related to in the film. He leads happy, normal life with his wife, but they never get the chance to fulfill their dream. Ellie dies, leaving him all alone in their little house. Carl is now full of remorse of opportunities missed and entire lifetime that just went by. He also misses Ellie terribly. If this was a real story, Carl simply would have lived his remaining years as best as he could, eventually dying sad and lonely (since they had no kids) But this is not real life, so he goes on an adventure instead. But let me continue a bit more about him.
Carl becomes very possessive about his stuff: pictures, little ornaments and some furniture, which become priceless irreplaceable symbols that remind him of the most important things in his life. This is one of his habits I felt most related to. To emphasize Carl’s withdrawal and seclusion in his little house in contrast with the real world outside, his property is suddenly in the middle of a construction site: his nice suburb is being turned into a busy metropolitan area.
One of the strongest moments in the movie is when Carl realizes, like most adventure heroes, that his grand adventure has already happened, and it was his life with his wife Ellie, living day by day and enjoying their love and the little things they shared. His adventure with the annoying Russel and the rest of the characters is just a sideshow, just a couple of fireworks and expensive movie effects in comparison with his entire life.

But enough about Carl. I must mention Kevin, that strange colorful bird, one of the best comic reliefs ever. Her dumb yet knowing look – an effect that happens, I think, mainly because she doesn’t move her eyes and simply stares around – is hilarious. And how she repeatedly expresses her opinion (she can only like and not like. Nothing in between) about the surrounding characters is fantastic. Kevin is a great example of repeating gags you never get tired of, unlike Russel…

I’m tired of that idiot yet good and kind boy who’s always in the way and takes half the movie to keep in pace with the rest of the plot. Russel is an annoying character and it would have done great with the movie if Carl kicked him out of his house at the beginning. I bet Carl wouldn’t have reached Paradise Falls (having no GPS), but even then it would have been better off without Russel.

And as for the plot. It’s a typical adventure. Nothing new in there. Hollywood has been doing the same trick since Star Wars, and even before that.

The animation is marvelous! Kevin is done magnificently, also the rest of the dogs. Carl really conveys the feeling of an old man, although not so much when he’s bust jumping, crashing, pulling and pushing heavy things and doing other actions elderly folk are not usually seen doing. The animators have added some nice secondary motion when he clicks his lips together.

I watched UP in 3D, and I must say it was utterly useless. I did not feel more “inside” the movie wearing those glasses. The shots were not created with the thought of 3D in mind, I guess, or else they could have done better job by emphasizing the depth of the shots and making some interesting camera stunts during the action scenes. There was also a bit of a yellow tint caused by the glasses. Not sure if it’s the glasses to blame, or the technology.

In conclusion, UP is a fine adventure movie. But more than that, it’s a sad story about things and people we long for and how we perceive our lives: have we already had our adventure, or are we in the middle of it. I guess most of us are often changing their mind about that. Depends on our mood.