‘World of Tomorrow’

The animator Don Hertzfeldt has never sold out, and his shtick is so unique that those who couldn’t buy him simply ripped him off instead. But he’s not so easily copied, and he’s not so easily pegged down. To say he makes goofy stick-figure toons is to miss how deeply strange and, at the same time, deeply, profoundly sad they are. Even his early breakthroughs — “Billy’s Balloon,” in which kids are terrorized by sentient, psychotic balloons, and the Oscar-nominated “Rejected” — are steeped in existential despair. He’s “matured” over the years, but in the best ways; he’s more serious, but still eccentrically silly, and he’s found ways to turn stick figure animation into things of rich visual beauty.

His latest, the short “World of Tomorrow,” builds on both the cosmic indifference that marked his sole feature so far, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” and his brilliant “Simpsons” couch gag from last year, in which the family are seen in the deep, distant future as no more than catchphrase-spewing blobs. “Tomorrow” offers another grim jaunt into the future, with a third-generation clone hob-nobbing with the child version of her original self. But their union is a stalemate: the clone (with a stern British accent) coldly rattles off horrific and often creatively absurd facts about the looming final end of whatever humanity became, oblivious to the fact that the little girl, no more than four, can only focus on pretty shapes and colors. And there are pretty shapes and colors, Hertzfeldt’s bold black lines drawn on eye-searing color backgrounds that change on a whim. You’re forced to fight between paying attention to the verbal (and visual) jokes of this bleak future and the beauty on display. It’s a literally gorgeous downer.

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Speaking of beauty, Miroslav Ondricek, the man who shot Milos Forman’s tony sorta-biopic about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, recently passed away. Not that you need an excuse to watch his pretty images light up a clever twist on the genre, which tells the Mozart (Tom Hulce) story, but only by way of the composer hack, Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), who claims he may have sort of killed him, maybe, probably not. Of Forman’s Hollywood fare, it may be the closest in pep and bitter humor to his early Czech films, like “Loves of a Blonde” and “The Fireman’s Ball.”

‘The Devil’s Rejects’
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Then again, if you really want to weep for humanity, watch the movie that established Rob Zombie as a perhaps unlikely director to watch. A sequel to his fumbling feature debut, “House of 1000 Corpses,” it’s next level at least 30 times over, turning its murderous family into first apocalyptic psychopaths, then daring to turn them into genuine victims. As far as films that mess with audience identification, it’s hard to beat.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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