Film Review : Anomalisa (2015)

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IMDB Score – 7.3

Rotten Tomato Score – 92%

Metacritic Score – 88%

Directed By – Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson

Starring – David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan

A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.

Well, now I’m depressed.

I’ve always been perplexed and intrigued by the work of Charlie Kaufman. I always thought he was able to get down to the reality of what makes us human and what drives our emotions. I didn’t understand Synecdoche, New York but actually purchased a DVD of it in order to dive into it more. I have yet to do that. I’ve seen Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind once each and while I found each of them incredibly daring and inventive, there has always been something holding me back from repeat viewings. Anomalisa will most likely join that group as I honestly don’t feel a need to see it again even though I took a lot away from it. It’s a polarizing film but ultimately a very important one.

I’ve struggled with depression and issues with apathy my whole life so the aspect of the film where every looks exactly alike and sounds exactly the same hit a chord. The use of Tom Noonan’s voice for every single character besides the main two was a brilliant move from the get go but adding the fantastic Tom Noonan to play that part was just wonderful to me. He was able to really sell each and every person as a mundane boring entity who almost attack Michael Stone with the challenge of remaining engaged and interested. Have we not all felt like that at one point or another? How many conversations do we have where we completely forget afterwards because of how routine and robotic they are? I felt the mans pain. I also think that part of the reason he was so out of touch with life is because of how selfish he was. This is something I can relate to and is the main culprit for making me feel a bit shitty after the viewing. Michael is battling himself so much that every person he comes in contact with is at the mercy of his own emotions. It’s something I’ve done for years as I try to figure out my purpose and role in life. It’s not fair to others to constantly have to hold the hand of somebody who has no idea what they want out of life. I thought the film hit that theme perfectly, honestly, and without holding anything back. It may be a reason why I feel shitty but it’s also a great takeaway from a film. I like feeling something tangible after seeing a film.

The film is also extremely intimate. We’re witnessing some very real and very personal experiences in this film. It doesn’t surprise me that the most intense and intimate moments in this film are when either one of the characters, and also both at the same time, are literally stripping away the walls we keep up to protect ourselves. The film uses the bare body a lot to kind of show how fragile and private some people are. The sex scene in the film was almost too realistic to watch. I felt like I really didn’t have a place to be there with these two characters, which is kind of funny considering they were animated. It really was a job well done by both directors to portray such a moment like that in the style in which they did.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, which was almost as bleak as the entire film, but it’s something that left a lasting impression. Do some people have a special ability to attach themselves to other people and never lose interest or love, or do people have exciting and wild first encounters that die out emotionally and we’re left with routine and robotic relationships? It kind of reminds me of a quote from the Fincher film Zodiac. Robert Graysmith’s obsession had gone down an unstoppable path and his wife has had enough. She says it was basically “a first date that never ended”. That quote stuck with me. I think some people struggle with maintaining the passion and exciting feelings they have when they first meet somebody who stimulates them. Those feelings fade and they’re constantly trying to either recapture them or find meaning in something else. My issues are a bit different than that but I feel it’s the main theme of Anomalisa and I couldn’t help but relate to them.

I’m still depressed though. A bleak film sometimes leaves bleak aftershocks. Yet it’s definitely a window into some of the less talked about but very real emotions that a large number of people deal with. I loved the honesty and intimacy ¬†of the film and I hope that Charlie Kaufman doesn’t take eight more years to give us another film.

4.5/5

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Film Review : Spotlight (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 97%
Metacritic Score – 93/100

Directed By – Tom McCarthy
Starring – Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Neal Huff, and Billy Crudup

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was sitting in my Intro to Journalism class with excitement in my bones because I had finally gotten to the point where I was going to learn how to become something I’ve wanted to become since I was a kid, a journalist. Well, thanks to the very mediocre standards at a particular country college in New Jersey, that dream was, and still is, put on hold. Frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of newspaper journalism. I didn’t care about what was said in the town meeting this weekend because it most likely involved Mrs. Phelp’s rose bush and how she couldn’t expand it due to the stupid creek next to her house which should be filled up. I don’t care about Mrs. Phelps. I wanted and still want to be a conflict journalist. The real dream is travel the world and report on stories that aren’t so readily available to be told. Stories that Vice started to do before they started writing articles on what food is the best before anal sex. I wanted to expose crime and change how people saw the world. This would entail exposing the world as a dark evil place filled with criminals, but at least the rosey colored glasses would be puled back a bit. That dream has been put on hold while I try figure out my life in more immediate ways. That doesn’t however keep me from planning such adventures. They’re still present in my mind. They came back up to the surface in a big way after finishing Tom McCarthy’s 2015 film that thankfully doesn’t star Adam Sandler, Spotlight.

You read the synopsis at the top. You read the newspapers ten years ago. The Catholic Church is fucked up. Like, REALLY REALLY fucked up. My interest in this film was tied to the journalism aspect as I described in the first paragraph, but I also wanted to see how a major market film would handle this kind of subject matter. I turned out to be very pleased with how they decided to do it.

Spotlight is basically This century’s “All the Presidents Men”. Yes, I’m aware that this observation has been realized and written down by probably every single person who has ever talked about this film this year. It does however ring true. McCarthy decided to stay close to the procedural side of telling this story and skip all the shiny dressings that usually accompanies a salad like this. With Spotlight, you have just basic ingredients, except these ingredients are made with extreme care and focus. Gone are the things like romantic ties between main characters. Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton don’t have a secret love fling. Swirling orchestral music isn’t harpooned at us whenever something emotional or powerful happens. The film lets us do all the work when it comes down to feelings and it’s to the films credit that by the end, my gut has been falcon punched into infinity. The film stands for itself and that’s really what I loved about it. The camera work wasn’t flashy but you can really notice it in small movements during pivotal scenes toward the end. McCarthy didn’t paint a new and unheard of masterpiece with his camera, rather he decided to hunker down and make every damn shot and cut count. It’s a reason why the film got nominated for editing, director, and screenplay. Those three things are what make this film special to me. It’s a technically perfect film as far as pace and tone goes, especially with the dark subject matter. It would almost be insulting to try to throw in cheesy love triangles when talking about something as serious as the rape of A LOT OF KIDS BY PRIESTS.

Speaking of subject matter, uhhhh yeah, it’s pretty horrible. The interviews with the victims and in one case, one of the men responsible, were done extremely well. McAdams does her best work here. I’m honestly a little perplexed why she got nominated for this role as I thought that Charlize Theron was phenomenal in Mad Max, but it’s not like McAdams was in any way bad. It wasn’t special to me. Mark Ruffalo however deserved his nomination. The dude killed it like he usually does. Keaton and the rest of the cast were perfect in their roles and you can’t really go wrong with casting Stanley Tucci in anything. The cast were perfect in their handling of such dark and disturbing subject matter. They were just as invested in their roles as the journalists they were portraying were in theirs.

The film is nominated for Best Picture and honestly, I wouldn’t be upset if it won. It’s not a special effects marvel like The Revenant or Mad Max, but it does what it does perfectly and that is tell the story of one of the biggest scandals of the last couple hundred years. It’s a haunting film that stuck with me for a while after I saw it and will hopefully shed a little more light on the church. My journalism path may be on hold, but I’m happy there was a film this year dedicated to the craft of reporting stories that aren’t getting any light.

4.5/5



Film Review : The Boxtrolls (2014)

IMDB Score – 6.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 75%
Metacritic Score – 61
Oscar Nominated for Best Animated Feature
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Starring – Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Toni Collette, and Simon Pegg

A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator. Based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters’ by Alan Snow.

One of my best friends has seen this movie like five times. He likes movies but is so busy all the time that he doesn’t get a chance to see much. He saw this film FIVE TIMES. Seeing as The Boxtrolls has recently been released on Netflix, my excuses have run dry and it was time to see the film my friend calls one of his favorite movies.

I liked it. I can’t say I liked it nearly as much as he did, but I liked it.

The Boxtrolls tells the story of Eggs, a boy growing up in the sewers and aptly named after the box he wears as weird vest/shirt thing. The Boxtrolls spend their night rummaging through the garbage while the rest of the town sleeps. This garbage is taken down below and turned into crazy inventions. They’re like little elves except stinkier and not as cute. Archibald Snatcher is a lunatic that wants to eradicate the Boxtrolls from the town in order to obtain a white hat and attend cheese parties. Yes, this film is British.

Laika, the production company that makes stop motion films, made one of my favorite animated films of all time in Coraline. The film was like a dark Grimm fairy tale and the animation was fresh and alive. Their second film, Paranorman, was also dark and surprisingly very funny. The story didn’t grasp me as much as Coraline did, but I still enjoyed it. The Boxtrolls is a bit like Paranorman but less dark. These creatures aren’t scary at all. They have animalistic little voices and are generally kind spirited and fun. All the evil and darkness comes from Archibald Snatcher, voiced terrifically by Ben Kingsley. It’s a good versus evil story arch that has been done plenty of times before, but in this case a very unique and different world. That’s what made this movie work for me. The fact that it was also gorgeously shot and animated helped out a great deal too. Kids should be able to find some great lessons tucked away in the story of the film. Pride of your personality and where you came from are themes you can’t really miss. Frankly, I just enjoyed watching the way they animated this thing, and listening to the voice acting. There was some real talent on display behind the microphone here. The three henchmen played by Frost, Morgan, and Ayoade were perhaps my favorite part of the film.

It may be my least favorite Laika film, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It’s unique, funny, and gorgeously shot and should provide for some rewatchability, but maybe not five times worth.

Also, now we know what happened to Bran Stark this season.

3.5/5




Quick Reviews! : The Imitation Game, Housebound, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and Old Joy

I’ve been busy getting ready for a move so I wasn’t able to give these films a dedicated full review. Here are some quick thoughts on each film.

If I didn’t see Selma this year, Benedict Cumberbatch would have been my lead performance of the year. He’s that good in it. You can tell how dedicated he is in portraying Alan Turing as graciously as he can and it showed. Sure Turing was a bit frustrating to work with, but the man was a genius and didn’t deserve to endure some of the hardships during the end of his life. Graham Moore, who charmed us all with his Oscar speech, deserved his moment in the spotlight after crafting an airtight and seemingly flawless screenplay. From the start to the finish the film runs effortlessly like one of Turing’s machine, turning and spinning on a heartbeat like rhythm. I can see why Morten Tyldum was nominated for an Oscar. This film is just so well put together. The score, the acting, the cinematography, and the writing are all free flowing and synchronized. The film reminded me a lot of A Beautiful Mind, both in subject matter and in storytelling. I didn’t really understand the Keira Knightley praise but it’s always nice to see Matthew Goode in stuff. I love watching him act. Good show.

4.5/5

New to Netflix, this New Zealand film from director Gerard Johnstone actually surprised me. I expected a serious horror film but what the film really excelled at was the sort of horror/humor that guys like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson gave us early in their careers. The film centers around a brat of a woman who gets in trouble trying to steal an ATM and has to be under house arrest for nine months in the house she grew up in. Stuff starts to happen that you would normally find in a movie like this but then the film takes a sharp right turn. The result is funny, original, fun, and occasionally disgusting. Give it a try if you like movies like Dead Alive of Evil Dead.

3/5

This Studio Ghibli film was recently nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this years Oscars. This is for good reason. The film is gorgeous. What seems to be colored pencil from time to time, Princess Kaguya’s beautifully animated story tells the tale of a girl born from a bamboo stalk that grows as fast as the plants she grew out of. Obviously there is some magical realism here, but that nuance is why I love Studio Ghibli films. This one was directed by Grave of the Fireflies director Isao Takahata, and features his best animation to date. Every scene leaps off the page in a colorful albeit very subtle display of animation. The simple story didn’t wow me as much as Ghibi’s other films, but its the kind of story that you can just sit back on a rainy day, like I did, and just take it all in. The music was also fantastic.

3.5/5

This was a bit of a slow watch. I’m a fan of Kelly Reichardt. I thought “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meeks Cutoff” were wonderful examples of what you can do with still images and slow burn story telling. Night Moves was a bit of a disappointment but after seeing that Old Joy was on Netflix, I decided to check it out. I didn’t realize a movie that has a run length of only 73 minutes could drag so long. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like the film. It was just the opposite of entertaining. Instead, it was a film that featured two friends going on a camping trip where their past and present only ever so slightly hits the surface of what we can see. There is a lot going on in the background of their lives that we aren’t directly told. I enjoyed it for what it was but I don’t think everybody will like it. It’s literally a car ride and a camping trip. Nice to see NJ natives Yo La Tengo doing the film score though. That helped.

2.5/5

Film Review : Foxcatcher (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 88%
Academy Award Nominee for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Makeup, and Best Original Screenplay

Directed By – Bennett Miller
Starring – Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Venessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, and Brett Rice

The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

(I’m going to try a different writing style with this one and see if it works out. Just a FYI)

Like Whiplash, I’ve been aware of this film for a long time as it had a very early run at film festivals early last year. I heard Steve Carell was a revelation, that the film was a contender for Best Picture, and that Bennett Miller crafted a tight thriller aimed to get under your skin. Well, some of those things ended up being true, some didn’t. Let’s get into this.

Steve Carell – This was really the first thing I heard about the film. Steve Carell, Michael Scott himself, can act with the big guys. Considering he was recognized by the Academy, I’d say that he has found his way into talk of great working actors today. I didn’t think however that his performance was as monumental as most are claiming. I think that the fact that it was Steve Carell behind that enormous shnoz added to the talk of greatness. The guy who was speaking gibberish on Bruce Almighty and throwing tridents at people in Anchorman was now taking on a serious acting role in trying to portray John duPont. I think he did as fine a job as anybody could have, I just think the actual part was a bit underwhelming. duPont doesn’t say much. This role was all in the eyes for Carell and by all means did he nail it. My favorite parts of the film were when Carell, as duPont, is confronted with a problem, and his gaze goes cold, and his mind seems to be racing, but there is zero emotion on his face. That’s all Carell. He was able to give off such a creepy and subtle psychosis that even though I didn’t know the outcome of the story, I knew something bad was brewing. David Oyelewo should have been in the Best Actor category, but I had no problem with Carell being there.

The screenplay – This is where the film had its flaws. I love quiet films. This film is VERY quiet. There is a very subtle score consisting of light piano and strings but most of the film is dialogue and while that is happening, there is silence. There were times where this kind of slowness was totally important in the building of these characters. Other times it meandered. There were scenes involving duPont and his obsession with being in control that were important theme wise but seemed to drag on film wise. The two hour and fifteen minute run time felt like three hours mostly due to this meandering. The end of the film was also very abrupt and didn’t really give us reactionary points of view from all parties. Shocking? Oh, hell yeah. The pivotal scene that begins the end of the film is one of the most chilling scenes I’ve seen this year, but after that the film just kind of fades away. I needed more resolve. There was also a lot of holes in the film where Shultz and duPont start to get closer to each other. There’s a scene on a helicopter before a ceremony that leads right into bad haircuts and total character change. Nothing explained it other than what happened on the helicopter. Just felt forced.
Other than that, I felt that the comparison and development of duPont and Mark Shultz was fascinating to watch. Both these characters had father/mother issues, felt like they were in the shadows of somebody else, and loved America a whole lot. It’s a great character study.

Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum – Both of them, teamed with Carell of course, kicked major ass in this film. I said as the film was starting that I wanted to see if Tatum could actually act or if he was just a one trick pony with his sexy dancing and his buddy cop comedies. The dude can act. I’m now in the group of people that sees him as an actor rather than a celebrity who tries to act. For the record, I loved him in 21 Jump Street. Like Carell with duPont, Channing portrayed Mark Shultz as a silent time bomb, ready to explode at a given point. I was impressed. Ruffalo has been a favorite actor of mine for a while and even I didn’t understand the praise he got for this film until about three quarters of the way in. Then I got it. The last quarter of this film, Ruffalo becomes one of the more sympathetic characters I’ve seen in film in a while. He portrays the character and personality of Dave Shultz so well that all sorts of emotions were flying by the films end. He earned his praise.

The liked the film. I’m glad I didn’t see it in theaters because I may have fallen asleep but the film worked in most ways in telling the chilling tale of what happens when you mix immense power and money with mental illness. The three actors knocked it out of the park and the film had great tone and color. It dragged in bits, but overall it’s a film that I can see getting better with age. The character study alone of duPont and Mark Schultz was worth the watch.

3/5