Now this is how you cut a trailer. I know nothing about the black and white indie horror film Darling except, “something beyond comprehension is happening to a girl in this city, inside this house,” and that the film is produced by Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix label which consistently puts out quality indie films, from Ti West to Kelly Reichardt. I’m in.
When the philosopher says, “Hell is other people,” he, perhaps, means that in trying to figure ourselves out, we are beholden to the reflections and interactions with other people. Or maybe he is talking about the modern customer service experience. In what is sure undoubtedly a high-water mark in animated cinema, Anomalisa is an utterly adult portrait of middle-age loneliness. Anonymous hotel rooms and the myriad awkward social contracts we perform daily with strangers become the grist for intimate, whisper-quiet apocalyptic storytelling. Kaufman is one of the few ‘auteur screenwriters’ working in the United States today, and much like his previous work, the idea of ‘the self’ is intelligently deconstructed by way of bittersweet cinematic creativity.
Absent are the science fiction notions (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and the weird scale (Synecdoche, NY) of his previous work, Anomalisa‘s most unconventional aspect that it is stop-motion animated instead of live action.
The team of animators working for co-director Duke Johnson deliver, on a Kickstarter budget, a film that looks as wonderful as anything from Laika Studios (Coraline, The Box Trolls) while, literally, leaving in the seams on the faces of the puppets untouched. Usually, these are digitally erased in post, but here they are thematically relevant, and left in. The miracle of artifice is miracle enough, and in one of those artistic contradictions, probably enhances the honestly of it.
The story is a beguilingly delicate, often savagely funny man-meets-lady tale that takes place mainly in the most impersonal hotel of the most boring city in North America. Cincinnati: Try the local chili, visit the zoo, slit your wrists. Perhaps the town is not truly that bad, but we get it from the weary perspective of Michael Stone, a married, middle aged man visiting for couple of days to give a lecture based on his how-to book on customer service.
Stone is wearily voiced by versatile actor David Thewlis, perhaps best known to cinema lovers as the young angry street philosopher Johnnie in Mike Leigh’s Naked. The lonely man he plays here here is the straight laced, sold-out, compromised 180 degree inversion Johnnie. Both are still lost souls though. Thewlis can convey ‘drowning in his own murk’ better than pretty much ever actor working today, and here he does it only with his voice.
I hosted the latest Weekend of Trash this time for a change, marking the 18th (recorded) get together (previous write-ups can be found in the category archive). The guys didn’t make it down until mid-day on Saturday so it was a bit shorter than usual and my wife was working so we had an extra addition to the ‘team’ in the day time, but we persevered and still had a great time (albeit with an unusual choice of opening film).
So as usual, here are the reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of sleaze, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief (I’m not about to start writing notes whilst watching movies featuring kung-fu fighting cowboys) and ratings are largely based on entertainment value rather than quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.
On a current affairs note, Denis Villeneuve’s effective cops, cartels, and spooks procedural, Sicario, stands a good chance at giving Donald Trump a bump popularity in the Republican primary. The film offers atrocities galore in the Mexican border crossing and drug trafficking space. Graphic imagery abounds – headless corpses suspended from bridges out in the open in Mexico, others are wrapped in plastic buried and buried in the drywall of a suburban home just north of the border. It is clear and concise in laying blame on the 20% of the drug using first world which motivates a market driving ever escalating violence and crime in the second world. This in turn always threatens to spill over permeable class, government, crime and international boundaries. The film is talky when it needs to be, but never loses focus that it is, above all else, Sicario is a wicked little genre film hellbent on demonstrating, often, the effortless cool of Benicio del Toro.
The slippery slope intensification of the drug war is shown from the point of view of seasoned SWAT leader, Kate Macer, here played by Emily Blunt as equal parts steely tough and human vulnerability. She (and we) are always the last to know everything as she is thrown to the wolves by her boss (Victor Garber) into a covert and vague CIA operation headed by one Matt, (Josh Brolin with a kevlar smile and flip-flops) and the mysterious Alejandro, who is some sort of private contractor. They jet around Arizona and Texas, trampling citizens rights. They, as it is euphemistically phrased, ‘shake the trees’ in Juarez, Mexico, illegally avoiding any semblance of due process and getting into a rather impressively staged shoot-out in a traffic jam on the Mexican side a border crossing. The word ‘sicario’ is either Hebrew or Mexican for ‘hitman’, at its core, the film postulates the ever-shifting goalposts of federal law enforcement (both American and Mexican) while slowly revealing the broken conscience of both States – as if someone thought to remake Soderbergh’s Traffic and shoot it over the template of Michael Mann’s Heat awash in dust motes, artillery and desert sunsets.
On May 29th,1953, Nepalese guide Tenzing Norgay brought New Zealand philanthropist mountaineer Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mount Everest. The very idea of crawling to the top of the highest mountain on earth, with its punishing temperatures and near lack of oxygen, captured the imagination of the planet. Hillary (and expedition leader John Hunt) were both knighted. Their smiling, deferent, ethnic companion was bestowed with a lesser honour, the George Medal, which nevertheless made him the most famous man from Nepal in the world. The significance of this, however, a legacy which has outlasted all three of these men, is that Norgay’s ethnicity, he is from the Sherpa clan, ceased to be the name of a people, and thereon became a global brand name.
Flash forward nearly 50 years to April 18, 2014, when that terrible avalanche killed 16 sherpas just beyond the first Everest base camp, and the mountain know by the locals as Chomolungma is now Nepal’s chief economy. Thousands of people from around the world pay one of 38 expedition companies huge amounts of money for the now tourist exercise of getting to the top of Everest. The Nepalese government makes millions. The sherpas however, which (literally) do most of the heavy lifting and shoulder the most risk, see the tiniest fraction of this money. It is still one of the best paid (and most dangerous) gigs in the Himalayas, but there is a spiritual and family cost to this profession that is not appreciated by may of the foreign adventurers that train hard and pony up for the privilege.
Australian director Jennifer Peedom initially went to make a documentary what Everest looks like in the 21st century, with its logjam of international climbers, from the point of view of the sherpa community. What her and her team ended up making is the most important film on Everest since the newsreel footage from the original climb. The tragedy in 2014 not ended the climbing season for that year, but brought to a head, a brewing labour movement that had be brewing since Nepal became a democracy in the 1990s and a generation of younger, more educated, sherpas started hauling oxygen, gear and fuel up the mountain.
Would you like to know more…?
Special guest star Shelagh Rowan-Legg joins us on day 8 of the Toronto International Film Festival 2015 to discuss highlights of the week thus far! Love! Evolution! Into the Forest! Sherpa! Baskin! Men & Chicken! And much much more!
Alex de la Iglesia is a filmmaker who delights at putting mayhem up on the screen, be it clowns with machetes fighting in the Spanish Civil War or the painted living-statues on La Puerta Del Sol knocking off a bank with shotguns. With his latest film, My Big Night, he gets to dissect his penchant for high-energy artifice and at the same time indulge in screwball farce.
Opening with a pop-funk musical number that is as toe-tapping as it is glossy and fake, we are dropped into the midst of a large TV network, furiously shooting its live New Year’s spectacular. Only, it is actually October, the audience members are paid extras, and everything is staged. The food and drink are as plastic as the smiles and the laughs. The studio is embroiled in a massive labor protest after recently laying off hundreds of employees, and the street outside threatens to erupt into war. Meanwhile, on the main sound-stage, the show must go on. The special is weeks behind and the non-union staff and players are forbidden to leave the lot until this over-budgeted clusterfuck is complete.
Making fine use of his large stable of regular players, in addition to Spanish musical icon Raphael, who had kind of a spiritual cameo in the climax of Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus but here is more central to the story playing a grotesque hybrid of himself and Tom Jones. Several overlapping stories are quickly established and developed over the course of 24 hours. The two ‘power-couple’ hosts (Hugo Silva, Carolina Bang) are fighting over their exposure in the script as well as their marriage. The son of the headlining act Alphonso (Raphael), played by Carlos Areces in a blonde buzz cut and moustache, has hired an assassin (Jaime Ordóñez) to speed along his inheritance, but the killer has designs on being a songwriter and is a massive fan. Two conniving women steal the sperm of a Fabio-esque pop-star (Mario Casas) in the hopes of blackmail. (I will not spoil how they, ahem, pull this off.) The camera operators nearly kill an extra during a tricky crane shot, and his schlubby replacement (Pepón Nieto) is forced to bring his senile, cross-bearing mom onto the set, and, oddly, is flirted with by a woman way out of his league (Blanca Suárez). The owner of the network (Santiago Segura) is still working his way through a downsizing list and the two lesbian producer-editors (Carmen Machi and Carmen Ruiz) feel they may get the axe.
The Toronto International Film Festival is halfway through its course. Which means Andrew is halway through being jealous. Kurt is in full-on festival mode, so per usual, Ryan McNeil from The Matinee joins us for his annual mid-fest recap. We cover a bunch of his TIFF screenings as well as a couple things happening back here on the home front. Of course we keep things totally spoiler-free for the TIFF stuff. Andrew wants to get populist and so we talk some Avengers 2 and the amazingness that is the send-up of Fast & Furious with Joseph Kahn’s Torque. Ryan of course cannot leave well enough alone and insists on starting up the Mistress America debate. And we end with Purple Rain. Because it’s Prince.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!