‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’
A few Sundays ago, “The Simpsons” saw its longest and arguably craziest ever opening credits couch gag— one that envisioned a strange and disturbing distant future where, yes, the show is still going and the family have been reduced to shapes and shrieked catchphrases. It came from the mind (and actual pencil) of Don Hertzfeldt, one of animation’s most unique voices. Hertzfeldt is a cult favorite whose shtick is that he draws stick figures — and we do mean draws. He never uses computers, instead painstakingly doodling on paper, the way toons were made before technology made things easier.
Indeed, it took Hertzfeldt years to make his only feature-length film, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” released in 2012 and new to iTunes. Originally it was three shorts, released as he completed them, all telling of a melancholic everyman who is suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that messes with his mind. As his condition worsens, hallucinations and creative nonsequiturs take over, and soon the film itself starts to break down, reorganize itself and soar off into the cosmos.
It’s devastating stuff — no less than a stick figure “Tree of Life” — and it confirms that Hertzfeldt has become “mature” without sacrificing any of his considerable gifts. When he first hit the scene, he was an underground punk; one of his earliest works was “Billy’s Balloon,” in which sentient balloons attack adorable, unsuspecting children. Hertzfeldt received an Oscar nomination for 2000’s “Rejected,” a much-copied fantasia in which he came up with hilarious fake commercials for nonentities like The Family Learning Channel involving talking bananas, giant spoons and bleeding anuses.
Real pain always underlined these jokey shorts, and soon Hertzfeldt turned more serious — but not remotely less funny. “The Meaning of Life,” from 2005, is as heavy as its title implies, viewing humankind’s evolution into the deep future more from the mind of an imaginative animator than a scientist. “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” gets similarly mind-blowing, especially in its finale, which imagines a future where man is not helplessly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It’s one of the rare cases where viewers truly will laugh and cry.
‘Venus in Fur’
Roman Polanski has always been funny, but his last two films have been the closest he’s ever gotten to making official comedies (which is to say not really). Chasing the chaotic bourgie-takedown of “Carnage,” the filmmaker, with "Venus in Fur," turns to a two-hander, in which a blustery actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) mentally undoes a pompous theater director (Mathieu Amalric). That Polanski’s real-life wife is messing with an actor commonly thought of as his doppelganger is not lost on the film, which is among his most playful works — his version of “Certified Copy,” only on a single, increasingly dark set and with plenty of leather. If you do need to be reminded that Polanski isn’t always funny, you can do no worse than picking up the newly Criterionized “Macbeth,” his bleak-o-rama 1971 take on the Shakespeare, where he exorcises the demons of the Manson murder of his wife and unborn child by draping an oft-told tale in grime and blood and pessimism — plus a cave of naked witches.
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