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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

2002 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/08/2017

The 2002 Friskies

The nominees are “Ice Age” (Blue Sky Studios), “Lilo and Stitch” (Disney), “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (Dreamworks), “Spirited Away” (Studio Ghibli), and “Treasure Planet” (Disney).

Ice Age

“Let’s do a ‘mismatched trio forms a reluctant alliance during a dangerous adventure, and build respect and friendship along the way’, and they’re prehistoric talking animals!”. With luck, none of its sequels was nominated by the MPAA.

Lilo and Stitch

No one ever told me that the Hawaiian kid’s weird-looking pet was a extra-terrestrial death machine on the lam. Disneyfied science fiction for the kids, plus a touching story about building a familyfor the adults. Shockingly good.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Dreamworks, which successfully kicked Disney’s ass with “Shrek” the year before, tried again by making an animal movie with animals that don’t talk. The horses were supposed to communicate with each other and the audience through horse noises, body language, and soundtrack music, but Dreamworks lost its nerve.

Instead of believing in the idea to the end, the horse body language became ridiculously anthropomorphic, the soundtrack added songs by someone who sounded too much like Bryan Adams (becaue it was Bryan Adams), and a “Wonder Years”-style narration by Matt Damon.

They almost made an interesting slavery allegory in which the US military are the bad guys.

Spirited Away

“Citizen Kane” is said to a landmark, one of the greatest films in history. I can never vouch for that, because I can’t be sure I’ve ever seen the whole thing — it puts me to sleep every time.

And so did “Spirited Away”, the Studio Ghibli production that every film critic in the world freaking raved about. Critics liken “Spirited Away” to “Yellow Submarine” and “The Wizard of Oz” for psychedelic imagery and a far out story, but “Yellow Submarine” had Beatles music.

“Spirited Away” is non-stop creepy moving pictures, but that’s all it is — when something has to happen to progress toward the end, it’s just handwaving. When the three dream characters in “The Wizard of Oz” had to infiltrate the witch’s castle to rescue Dorothy, they cowboyed up (that is, the characters determined to do something and did, whereas in “Spirited Away”, the somethings just happened).

Treasure Planet

Rather than make an animated version of the Robert Louis Stevenson book with 21st-century technology, they made a space opera (so the parrot becomes a shapeshifter — maybe the most amusing character in the movie). Points for Emma Thompson as an animated Honor-Harrington-like feline, Patrick McGoohan’s last credit, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim Hawkins, though Gordon-Levitt’s voice always grates me when he’s upset.

The winner of the 2002 Frisky Award is “Lilo and Stitch”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2002 — Lilo and Stitch*
2001 — Shrek

*The Frisky doesn’t correspond with the Academy Award.

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2001 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/01/2017

Welcome to the Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA.

We are awarding Friskies because:

1)  It gives me a reason to watch  the Oscar nominees that I haven’t seen.

It’s easy to see all the nominated shorts — they show those together at small houses — but I miss many of the features. Thank heavens for home video and public libraries — even if some MPAA nominees will be handicapped by my having to watch a 13.3-inch MacBook screen.

2) The MPAA sucks.

The Oscars aren’t always given to the deserving artists or films — often they’re premature lifetime achievement awards, or makeup calls.

And when it comes to animated movies, there should be an additional category: Best Animated Feature from a Studio Other Than Pixar and Disney. For instance, “Finding Nemo” (2003), “Inside Out” (2015), and “Zootopia” (2016) aren’t locks to win the Friskies over “The Triplets of Belleville”, “Anomalisa”, and “My Life as a Zucchini”, respectively.

The 2001 Friskies

The nominees are: “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius” (Nickoledeon), “Monsters, Inc.” (Pixar), and “Shrek” (Dreamworks).

Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius

Impossibly tech-savvy 3rd-grader sends a toaster into space to make alien contact, puts his robot dog in bed while he sneaks out to an amusement park, and the kids wish their parents didn’t exist. What could go wrong?

Wildly imaginative graphics — to save their parents from their alien abductors, the kids pilot a space fleet constructed from amusement park parts — and bonus points for an unknown voice cast. Despite the adult songs on the soundtrack (songs by Kim Wilde and The Go-Go’s), a kids’ movie all the way.

Monsters, Inc.

An early entry from the 10 years in which Pixar had an OPS of 5.000 (in other words, they hit a home run every time). There *are* monsters in the closet, but they’re more scared of children than the children are of them, so hell for monsters breaks loose when a little girl lands on the other side.

State-of-the-art motion (John Goodman’s blue and purple fur bristles) and goofy monsters who are genuinely scary when the story calls for it.

In a priceless bonus for adults, “Monsters, Inc.” reframes the Chuck Jones classic “Feed the Kitty”, right down to the monster fainting with the same facial expression as the bulldog.

Shrek

There are some movies that leave me thinking “That was outstanding. I have to see this again.”, but sometimes I don’t get around to it, which is one reason for The Frisky Awards (I can hardly wait for “The Triplets of Belleville” year).

In adult fashion, “Shrek” skewers Disneyfied fairy tales, while Dreamworks raspberries the Disney facade itself. A Michael-Eisner-sized wannabe king schemes to send an ogre — bargaining to regain his privacy — on a hero’s journey to rescue a princess from a dragon-patrolled tower.

“Shrek” follows the heroic journey tropes so the children can follow along, while brilliantly subverting the details. The princess’ Disney Song and Storybook is far from the reality of “Shrek”. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz haven’t made a better movie since.

The winner of the 2001 Frisky Award is “Shrek”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2001 — Shrek

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About the chess scene in Casablanca 09/07/2017

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Screen legend Humphrey Bogart was  a chess enthusiast, once appearing  on the cover of Chess Review magazine with his wife Lauren Bacall.

In 1942, the Warner Brothers film “Casablanca” won the Academy Award as Best Picture, its star Bogart won Best Actor.

Early in “Casablanca”,  Bogart analyzes a chess position while Peter Lorre implores him to hide invaluable travel tickets.

According to Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca by Aljean Harmetz, it was screenwriter Howard Koch’s idea to include the chessboard, representing the character Rick Blaine as a thinking man.

According to a chess.com forum post  without citation, Bogart’s examining one of his postal games. The Harmetz book says screenwriter told producer Hal B. Wallis that Blaine is supposed to be castling, as a metaphor for keeping himself out of trouble.

During the shooting of “Casablanca”, Bogart maintained a postal game with Irving Kovner from Brooklyn, the brother of a Warner Brothers studio employee. Bogart’s wont was to accompany his moves with a few personal words (“Now I’m in a jam”).

It would have been an extraordinary coincidence for Bogart’s analysis of the Kovner game to include castling precisely in accordance with the script. It’s my reasonable guess that the Kovner position was on the board, and Bogart castled perforce — out of sequence or illegally — then restored the Kovner setup after the take.

Paul Henreid, a “Casablanca” co-star, played chess with Bogart on the set. Round Up the Usual Suspects quotes Henreid as saying Bogart was a “fine chessplayer, very fine”. Like any chessplayer, Henreid said he won all the games for being a little better than his very fine opponent.

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The Last DJs 09/06/2017

I watched a movie in which women aged 80 and 30 — who don’t get along at first because the senior lady is an imperious battleaxe — discover a shared fondness for vinyl, and especially for freeform radio.

The young woman shares the call sign for freeform station in town, and in a beat, the old woman is hauling her record library to the station. There she talks her way into the drivetime DJ job, because she’s got technical experience with radio plus a wide-ranging knowledge of music, and the awareness that DJs used to build blocks of songs that fit together, like a thoughtful mixtape. Naturally in a movie like this, the soundtrack is appropriately diverse. (The only artist I recognized was The Kinks, and it was a song I didn’t know.)

If that were all this movie was about, it might’ve been pretty good, though how do you wring two hours from that — more likely, it’s a “WKRP in Cincinnati” episode in which Bailey meets a disagreeable old woman in a coffee shop, and so forth.

Unfortunately for “The Last Word” — starring Shirley MacLaine as the old and Amanda Seyfried as the young — that excellent 25 minutes was a small portion of two hours that I wager critics hated.

It was built by formula: Disagreeable old lady meets callow young lady meets precocious orphan, no one gets along initially but inevitably form a familial bond.

It was most predictable, because you know the steps in that formula, and the title and the premise give away the ending — the old lady has to die at the end after repairing burned bridges, settling old accounts, and assisting the young woman and the orphaned girl in growing up.

The framework is that Shirley MacLaine gets the idea that she wants Amanda Seyfried, who writes obituaries for the local paper, to write her obit in advance. MacLaine explains that every well-crafted obituary contains some wild card remembrance which made the deceased special (which turns out to be ‘retired advertising executive becomes disc jockey at 81′). Seyfried has trouble writing the boilerplate about MacLaine’s colleagues and loved ones because hated her. You know how it works: the movie gradually makes her less and less hated until Seyfried ultimately delivers a heartfelt, teary-eyed eulogy at the end.\\\

The reason I’m writing about this crappy — just checked; 35% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes — movie that we’ve all seen before in one form or another (probably several times until we’re fed up with the predictability) was the 25 minutes about genuine radio programming by human DJs, not demographic-driven algorithm. The movie has a sincere love for eclectic music broadcast on 500-watt stations.

Before “The Last Word”, the piece of modern popular culture that best addressed the death of good radio was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Last DJ”, a concept album tied together by Tom’s disillusion with the business. Of course, you don’t hear “The Last DJ” on the radio, which is the whole bloody point.

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Maybe I saw luxury sports automaker Pagani’s most complicated car a month before its introduction at the Geneva Motor Show 02/22/2017

huayra-roadster-ginevra-2017-00000-300x212Years ago, I spotted a student’s father reading Hot Rod magazine during the kid’s chess game. Maybe I looked at the cover weirdly.

“You look confused,” he said.

“I… I’m not a car guy,” I said.

“What? Sure you are. Just not the cars in this magazine.”

He was right. My cars were ’60s Volkswagens with aircooled engines suitable for lawnmowers. I subscribed to VW Trends magazine, and attended Volkswagen conventions, in search of parts and girls.

I’ll always think the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was the most beautiful car ever designed. It was essentially a Volkswagen Beetle “in a sporty, Italian-designed body,” the ad said.

The ad deserves its own story. The best print ad campaign of the 20th century, according to Ad Age magazine, was the “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen by Doyle Dane Bernbach. “Think Small” described the Beetle’s economical ways in a charming and straightforward manner, with a clean and minimal page layout — even the advertising said “small and self-deprecating, but inexpensive and awesome”. My father always said that his dark blue ’69 Beetle was the best car he ever owned.

When I learned to drive, it was in a Beetle, with one of my chess club cronies, a Volkswagen restoration mechanic. He re-introduced me to the Karmann Ghia, and it was love at first sight, again. (In my first year of journalism classes, the school newspaper editor drove a Karmann Ghia and dated the prettiest girl on staff.) My first car, naturally, was a half-green-half-primer-gray Karmann Ghia with one orange door.

25 years later, the sight of a clean Karmann Ghia on the road can still make me gasp — the Germans sure knew how to engineer a car, and the Italians sure knew how to design them. They don’t make ’em like that anymore — whether by federal regulation or consumer fashion. For neat Italian automotive styling, the modern winner is the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Today’s Italian sports cars — the Ferrari and Lamborghini, for instance — are designed to shock and awe; I prefer the simple lines and curves of the Karmann Ghia. However, I’ve seen the most shocking and awe-inspiring, elite superpowered Italian sports car: the Pagani Huayra, a car with the aura of a magic carpet.

Pagani’s manufacture of the Huayra in 2012 was such an occasion in the sporting automotive world that the BBC series “Top Gear” devoted to the Huayra the first segment of its Season 19 premiere. “Top Gear” is car porn. If you’ve ever been fascinated by a fast, expensive car, “Top Gear” is the chewiest eye candy. And “Top Gear’s” verdict was to urge anyone in their audience with enough cash ($1.1 million — when you ask what could possibly bring the cost of an automobile up to $1.1 million, consider that Pagani carves its name badges and wheel rims from solid pieces of aluminum.) to do so — the Huayra broke “Top Gear’s” speed record, while its engineering touches blew the hosts away.

“Top Gear” was pleased to say Pagani fills the void that Lamborghini and Ferrari left behind when Lamborghini was sold to Volkswagen-Audi and when Ferrari became a label for lifestyle items — “Top Gear’s” host used the term “innocence” to describe Pagani’s brand name purity, and railed against Ferrari putting its logos on teddy bears while neglecting automotive engineering.

The “Top Gear” segment about the Huayra was made in 2012. Five years in the luxury automobile industry is probably like five years in the software industry — everything has changed, so what was the deal with the shiny new Huayra I saw two weeks ago? According to Wikipedia, Pagani plans to unveil the new Huayra Roadster at the Geneva Motor Show in March. The Huayra Roadster is the “most complicated project we have ever undertaken,” said automaker Horacio Pagani.

1955-74_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_02 think_small

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