Articles

Rams

Documentary

/ Remi
Rams cover

If you like design of any sort, odds are you at the very least respect Dieter Rams. At the German appliance company Braun, he led the design of products that still are iconic, not just because they look good, but because they define how we can and should work with appliances today. For all intents and purposes, I doubt we can improve on the Braun ET66, as far as a pocket calculator goes.

It’s surprising it has taken this long for someone to make a documentary about the man. Product design has gone from being du jour to something that is expected these days. Apple (and Rams acolyte Jony Ive) ushered in the modern era, and even companies like Microsoft has started taking design seriously1 over the last half-decade or so. Would any of this have happened without Rams? Maybe, maybe not, but there is no denying his impact on our contemporary world.

Gary Hustwit was the right person to make the movie. His work on Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized is very much a part of our design zeitgeist, and Kickstarting Rams was a no-brainer for me. Not surprisingly, the documentary places itself well into his canon. It’s a fascinating and inspiring movie.

Rams is formed in the type of simplicity its namesake has been a steward of for almost sixty years. We learn about Rams’s history from being a young architect, through his forty years with Braun, to his current work with Vitsœ. He talks about his philosophies (captured in his Good Design principles) as well as his opinions on contemporary design.

One particularly amusing scene shows Rams in an Apple Store, with his voiceover lamenting how products today aren’t designed to last; it’s easier to buy a new model than getting the current one fixed. I’m willing to bet a large percentage of Rams’s audience is made up of the very people who design those products.

It’s a good documentary, then, and a must view for anyone who has an interest in design, or those who just wants to learn a bit more about why the world around us looks like it does.

1 Though nice as the Surface may be, it’s close to all for naught as it doesn’t run an operating system that can handle the touch interface the hardware was designed for.

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The Mickey Mouse shorts

By Remi

If the victor of the cartoon wars of the thirties and forties was Warner Bros. or Disney is entirely subjective. On one hand, Warner’s shorts—Bugs, Daffy, et al.—are still more omnipresent than what Disney produced. On the flip-side, Disney has been a feature-length animation juggernaut since Snow White so it wouldn’t be outlandish to call it a draw.1

Me, I’m into the recent Mickey Mouse shorts. They maintain the sensibilities of the late-twenties/early-thirties cartoons, with similar character designs to the classics, and stories in the vein of Steamboat Willy. To wit…

These new shorts feel more like something seen in today’s alternative animation, and with the atrocities Disney has performed with the characters over the years, it’s nice to see them coming back to their roots.

1 Disney’s standalone shorts, Silly Symphonies, artistically trump any of the others, but that’s neither here nor there.

Reaper

TV show

/ Remi
Reaper cover

If we are in the golden era of television as many (probably rightfully) declare, then there was a handful of shows that had to sacrifice themselves to get us to where we are today. Shows like Better Off Ted was not long for this world, but it gave its life to allow other smart programs to make their way onto the small screens.

To me, the greatest of these was Reaper, which ran on The CW for two seasons between 2007-2009. Had it been released today, it likely would have found a good home on Hulu (where the old episodes currently reside), but Reaper never had the mass appeal to make it on network television back in the late aughts.

The premise of the show is simple: Sam learns on his twenty-first birthday that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was conceived (under the belief that they would never have kids), and he now will have to eternally work as a reaper, bringing escaped souls back to hell.

It’s an amusing concept, and the situations Sam and his two friends, Sock and Ben, get themselves into while hunting souls are imaginative. It’s one of those simple ideas that quickly can be tossed aside if one does not take a step back and see the promise it brings. (Which was clearly what America decided not to do.)

Yet, great as the writing is, the essence of the show is Ray Wise as the Devil. Ray Wise, what a class act! It doesn’t matter what role it is—big, small, cameo—Wise always brings it, and Reaper serves as a showcase for the trifecta of what makes him him. Do you like his genuinely menacing presence as Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks? You got it. The earnest, charming humor from Fresh Off The Boat? It’s here in full force, all neatly packaged in the suave swagger we saw in Mad Men. This is the Ray Wise mother lode, and we are all richer because of it.

(Frankly, as far as television goes, if there is a good show out there, odds are Wise guest-starred in it: Anything from Psych to Fargo to Gilmore Girls have been blessed with His presence.)

The casting, in addition to the principal characters, is inspired. The escaped souls are mostly high-concept—e.g., convicted murderer returning to kill those who prosecuted him—and they serve as playgrounds for a host of contemporary greats. Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino appear semi-regularly as a demonic couple, and Patton Oswalt brings comedy gold. Armie Hammer and England’s national treasure, Lucy Davis1, both deliver. Back in the day when we actually had to wait for these things to come on weekly television, one of the small joys was the anticipation of who the next guest-star would be, and rarely did the wait not pay off.

During its run, Reaper was pitted against Chuck in the battle of winning the hearts of those who at the time was referred to as the geek-chic. Fair or unfair as it might have been, that was how the media framed it, and Reaper lost. I still feel the world was big enough for both shows, and Reaper deserved better than what it got. I don’t know how it fares these days, but a part of me hopes streaming at least has elevated it to a cult-hit status.

And Chuck? Well, no prizes for guessing who made a guest appearance in that show.

Bonus fact!

Sam and Sock appear in an episode of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. It was created by the same people who made Reaper and it, too, was canceled.

1 I will defend Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to my death.

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Dolls

Horror

/ Remi
Dolls cover

They Walk. They Talk. They Kill. That is Dolls’s tagline, which puts it neatly in line with other misleadingly marketed doll-based movies.

Dolls is the first horror movie I remember actually loving as a young’un back in the eighties. I don’t know exactly what attracted me to it, though as someone who today has a fondness for gothic ghost stories, I would imagine Dolls being a foundation. A large mansion with killer — though barely walking or talking — dolls must have left some sort of mark.

Has it held up, though? That’s tough to say. It might have, but there is a disconnect between what Gently Matured I would have thought had I first watched the movie in 2018, and me now reliving my childhood.

Thirty-one years after its original release, Dolls looks and plays like a product of its time. The eighties were built on the premise of clueless dads with new, heartless significant others, using their kids as pawns in divorces. Granted, more-so in comedies (likely starring John Candy) than horrors. Being shacked up in a mansion with creepy hosts and a group of other stranded guests is a bit more sixties in style. It was overplayed already in 1987, but it at least throws us into the action without much pause for subtleties.

There are few surprises in Dolls, but that might have felt differently back then. Pre the Child’s Play-s of the world, killer dolls at least felt somewhat novel. The effects — all practical, natch — look dated these days, but they’re still charming. Antique dolls attacking those who have lost their inner-children holds up well and is creepy. Stuart Gordon’s direction is stylish, and though Dolls isn’t up there with Re-Animator in substance, it is in a different league than the nine-years-out Pinocchio’s Revenge.

There isn’t a whole lot of depth to the story, but the fairytale celebration of childhood, and a fable-esque punishment of those who have grown cynical has a gleeful menace to it. The cast, too, is serviceable. Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason, old pros as they are, are probably the more familiar faces, though model Bunty Bailey is recognizable from A-ha’s Take On Me. It isn’t an ensemble dreams are made of, but it works well enough.

Maybe what it all came down to for Young Me was just that: Elements that worked well enough, and a gee-whiz factor that was eerie rather than scary. It was something to watch, rooting for the girl and her protector while boo-hiss-ing those who wouldn’t let kids being kids.

It looks slick still, Madonna-like fashion aside, and it’s grotesquely fun. Today, it is, to me, more a celebration of my childhood than it is of filmmaking, and that’s OK. What Dolls would mean for you, though? I honestly have no idea.

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