Thursday, August 18, 2005

Joe Ranft (1960-2005)

Pixar story man dead at 45

Joe Ranft, probably best known for his voice-work as Heimlich, the caterpillar, in A Bug's Life, died yesterday in an automobile accident.

Joe also provided voices for Jacques, the cleaner shrimp in Finding Nemo, and Wheezy, the singing squeak-toy from Toy Story 2.

But Joe's true passion was the story. He received an Oscar nomination for his contribution to the writing of Pixar's first feature-length film, Toy Story. He also received several other awards and nominations for his writing.

I remember watching the special features on the DVD for A Bug's Life where they tell the story of how when Joe recorded the voice track for the character Heimlich, it was meant to be a scratch/temporary track until they could find an actor to re-record the part for the finished film. Well, they never found an actor who could improve on Joe's perfect Bavarian accent for the hungry, hungry, Heimlich, so when you watch A Bug's Life (which I plan to do soon), every time you're laughing at that big fat caterpillar, that's Joe.

UPDATE (09/12/05)
Films Recently Watched (in memory):

A Bug's Life (1998) dir. by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. In memory of Joe Ranft, co-writer.
This is a genuinely good film, not just for the kids. The story is top notch, though, admittedly, the basic premise is lifted from Seven Samurai and, more recently, The Three Amigos. The dialogue is witty, the animation is perfect, great voice acting.

Toy Story (1995) dir. by John Lasseter. In memory of Joe Ranft, Head of Story.
This groundbreaking film is celebrating it's 10th Anniversary this year. In so doing, Pixar has released a new DVD edition about which I've been hearing amazing things. Now, you may or may not know my policy about what is commonly referred to as "double dipping" (i.e. purchasing the same film more than once on the same format), but, generally, I'm agin' it. This is no exception, I'm afraid, though rest assured, I am not opposed to receiving gifts that would otherwise be considered double dipping. Anyway, I just watched my standard version of Toy Story, but enjoyed it none the less. Make no mistake; Story is king at Pixar and Joe Ranft was the King of Story. He will be missed.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Weekend Getaway!

Christy and I were able to get away this weekend. We dropped Hannah off at my Mom and Dad's on Friday and spent the weekend in downtown Indianapolis. We took in a couple of shows, ate at a couple of nice restaurants, did some shopping, slept in, relaxed. It was really nice to get away for a couple of days with just the two of us!

Films Recently Watched:

Open Water (2003) dir. by Chris Kentis
A well-done suspense film, but also an amazing story of the potential to succeed in independant filmmaking.

From IMDB Trivia:
This movie was financed by director Chris Kentis and his wife, producer Laura Lau, both avid scuba divers. The movie cost $130,000 to make and was later bought by Lion's Gate for $2.5 million after its screening at Sundance.

Not too shabby!

Great Expectations (1946) dir. by David Lean
My Jr. High literature class got to watch this after reading the Charles Dickens novel, but didn't know (or care) who David Lean was at that time. Now, if someone had allowed the courtesy of mentioning to me that a young Obi Wan Kenobi was playing the role of Herbert Pocket, I might have paid more attention, though, strangely, he looks nothing like Ewan McGregor. Hmmm. Anyway, I'm trying to work through the David Lean catalog. Up next: Dr. Zhivago, Passage to India, maybe The Bridge on the River Kwai.

March of the Penguins (2005) dir. by Luc Jacquet
This is currently in theaters. Christy and I saw it while we were in Indianapolis.

A really sweet National Geographic documentary about Emperor Penguins in Antarctica. An amazing story of family, life over death, but above all things, it's a story Good for just about any age, young or old.

Before this film, we saw the trailer for Tim Burtons' Corpse Bride. I am really stoked to see this now. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a similar Tim Burton creation and is one of my absolute favorites, so I'm anxious to see another one in this tradition. Releases September 23rd!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Weekend, etc.

Sunday, we went to a baseball game. Christy's work was giving away tickets to the Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field. I've been to Victory Field a few times and it's always a treat. Of Triple-A clubs, they must have one of the nicest home fields.

It was hot, but not as bad as it has been and the rain held off other than a few refreshing sprinkles. We rooted, rooted, rooted for the home team and the Indians won, beating the Toledo Mud Hens 6-1, sweeping the three-game series with Toledo. That's right, "Mud Hens."

I was a little worried about heading downtown with the Brickyard 400 happening same day, but traffic wasn't a problem coming or going.

[Click on any picture for a larger version]

Watchin' the gameVictory Field and Indy Skyline
Swing, batta, batta, SWING!The pitch...

We got back into Anderson early enough that we decided to go to a park in our downtown area. They've got an area with water fountains that people can run through and play in. Hannah quickly made friends with a girl about her size who enjoyed sticking her whole head and face directly in the path of the fountains. Now, Hannah still screams "bloody murder" when I dump water over her head in the bath to rinse out the shampoo, but some stranger makes it look like fun and suddenly she'll take it right in the face from a high-pressure nozzle like a circus clown! Go figure.

Monday, Hannah's daycare had a cookout/pitch-in at a local park. It was nice to get to meet a few of the parents of Hannah's playmates.

Films Recently Watched:

Just a general note about my "Films Recently Watched" entries. Forgive me for not doing the standard reviews on these films I watch with a plot synopsis, etc. It isn't always just a case of being lazy. There are at least two films in this post alone (The Sullivans and Brief Encounter) where virtually any explanation of the plot would lessen the impact of watching the film versus going in knowing nothing about the story. Other times, yeah, I'm just lazy, so waddaya gonna do 'bout it?

Bambi (1942) dir. by David Hand. Produced by Walt Disney.

Born Yesterday (1950) dir. by George Cukor
I speculated that Judy Holliday, who plays the leading female role in this film probably should have gotten a 4th place finish at the Oscars in 1951. Well, she was good, but I still don't think she deserved the Oscar. Judy Holliday was spot on in her role as the dumb blonde in this picture, but Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. would have easily gotten my vote.

1941 (1979) dir. by Steven Spielberg
Several funny gags, to be sure, but generally, a misstep for Spielberg.

Predator (1987) dir. by John McTiernan

The Sullivans (1944) dir. by Lloyd Bacon
If you've never seen this and don't know the story on which this film is based, I recommend that you just watch it with no knowledge about the story going in. I think it would have played better for me that way. It's a very sweet story, and a true one at that.

Fantasia (1940) dir. by James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen. Produced by Walt Disney

Escanaba in da Moonlight (2001) dir. by Jeff Daniels
This was highly recommended to me by my tween-aged Nephews, Tyler and Anderson. As soon as I picked up the DVD at the library, I turned it over and noticed the rating: "PG-13 -- For Uncultured Humor." I guess I should have known what I was in for. Very odd. Sorry boys, this one won't be making my top 250. Original music by Alto Reed, and yet, not a saxophone to be heard; I kid you not.

Brief Encounter (1945) dir. by David Lean
What a simply wonderful piece of filmmaking! These "romance" films don't always connect with me, but this one did. The two David Lean films with which I was familiar going into this one were Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Brief Encounter is far from these two epic adventure films, but mesmerizing, none the less. Stunning!

An appropriate quote that came up recently on my Google Personalized Home Page; "Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." --Robert Frost

Friday Night Lights (2004) dir. by Peter Berg
What was up with the camera constantly zooming in and out during this film? The hand-held camerawork just didn't work for me. The movie was OK. Give me Hoosiers anyday, though. It has more heart.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) dir. by Michael Moore
I'm happy to live in a country where a film like this can be made (and distributed).

The Lost Weekend (1945) dir. by Billy Wilder
Another "Best Picture" winner. Only about 40 left to go!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

IMPS - The Relentless: Chapter 1

I got a surprise in the mail Saturday.

As I mentioned before, one of Christy's relatives is involved with the guys that made the Star Wars fan film, Troops. They're making what will eventually be a feature-length film, I.M.P.S. The Relentless, but they're releasing it in small pieces (these guys all have full-time jobs, besides devoting lots of their "spare" time to this project).

They released the trailer back in March and released the first chapter back in May.

So why am I waiting to tell you about it until now? Good question.

I tried several times to download it, but couldn't.

I could download it at work, but couldn't play it there. I downloaded and installed the correct DivX player at home (which was the problem at work), but had some trouble downloading the actual film over my dial-up connection there (it's a 200MB+ file).

All that to say, Nathan was kind enough to mail me a DVD copy of the first chapter and trailer!

Secret Imperial Agent

So now that I've seen it, I'm happy to report to you that it is really good! This is not your average (or even above-average) fan film.

This has a really high production value throughout, and these aren't just a bunch of tight shots on actors either, they've created a world for these ships and characters and they allow the viewer to see it! There is a lot of detail here that could have easily been left out. The ships are believable inside and out and these aren't just all the same ships that we've seen in the Star Wars films. They have created new ideas and expanded on what we've seen before. I was especially fond of the TIE docking stations and the landing gear on the Corellian freighter. Very nice.

Believable sound effects that, again, expand on the Star Wars universe, but still fit the part. I even heard a "Wilhelm" scream in there! Very nice work, fellas!

More on the plus side, there was original music composed for this production. More on that HERE. The CG elements they use blend in nicely with the real sets and actors. Editing, mixing, all quite good.

With a narrator speaking over the first several scenes, I started to worry that the entire thing would be like that, but once you get to the dialogue, there are several genuinely funny moments, some spoken, some not.

I'm anxious to see in what direction this film is going to go next, though I'm a little worried that they're actually going to make me care about some of these troops that were always so easy to hate from Lucas' films.

Other that that, the only downside that I can think of is that I am probably now on every government terrorist watch list between here and California! Besides getting a package in the mail that says "Special Imperial Agent," now, with all this terrorist nonsense happening over in London accompanied by headlines like MURDER AT STOCKWELL, BAD DAY AT STOCKWELL STATION, and STOCKWELL RAIDS, well, I'm pretty sure that I'm being monitored by the F.B.I., C.I.A., etc.

May the Force be with me -- and also with you!