Review: Anomalisa

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.

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Review: MacBeth

With its meticulous framing, bold editing and sparsely sumptuous cinematography, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of the most straightforward of Shakespeare’s plays has as its closest cinema-analogue, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising. Indeed, Macbeth is bold in its visuals, opaque in its emotional spaces, brutal in its violence, and the chilly Isle of Skye locations evoke medieval eras where the halls of men were dwarfed by endless open spaces. It was, quite frankly, surprising just how much it made HBO’s Game of Thrones, which films in Ireland, a quick hop south and west, look small and visually unambitious. In the golden age of television, the convergence of directors, actors, and production design between TV and Feature Films, there is clearly a domain of one: complex plots and characters, novelistic storytelling, and the other: pure, overwhelming audiovisual power.

You perhaps know the story well. A noble warrior in Scotland is convinced by his wife to murder his king to speed up succession. The guilt drives him mad, and more murders are called for to sustain power, before the consequences are fully reaped. And there are witches who coin the term ‘hurly-burly’ to describe the whole sordid affair. One thing that is either in the Bard’s text, and I have somehow missed it in the past, or it is freshly integrated by Kurzel and his screenwriters (one of latter is High Fidelity actor, Love Liza director Todd Louiso), is that of coldhearted ambitions being driven by the loss of children, or the lack-there-of. The film opens with the death of one the Macbeth’s children, a baby girl, to an unexplained illness, and quickly follows up with the loss of the other child to war. It is never made unequivocal that either of these are in fact the offspring of the pair, but the framing of the opening funeral in one scene, and later, the way MacBeth applies war paint to the boy-soldier, firm but delicate, laced with unspoken pride, seems to imply such. The boy’s death recalls the silent horrors of Russian masterpiece Come And See. Is Macbeth’s hunger for power and nation building driven by the loss of his own? A corrupt lust or desire for stronger leadership to prevent further civil wars? Either way, it underscores the tragedies to follow. On a somewhat unrelated note, there is also the addition of a small girl to the trio of Witches making them either a fearsome-foursome or a family. Combine that with a children’s choir performance piece in the middle the film, and one can see the emphasis of ‘the future’ in this telling of the play.

Michael Fassbender brings the type of raw, implacable energy that he does for director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), and is equally handy with a soliloquy or a sword. Sometimes he does both simultaneously. His slow loss of sanity in the back half gloriously subverts his charming smile, making it a mockery of the actors effortless charisma. Marion Cotillard’s Lady MacBeth is played, at times, more tragic than Machiavellian, at times her lonely stares into the camera threaten to conjure Maria Falconetti. It makes the character either complex or poorly written and realized, I couldn’t tell. The iambic pentameter and original text of the play are intact and when on screen instead of on stage, tend to mute the emotional components of the characters, which is handily made up for by the sheer visual portentousness (and yes, occasional glorious splendour too!) Want to get an idea as to how the final battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker should have been shot? Look no further than the ‘forest is on fire and ash is in the air’ battle of broadswords between MacBeth and MacDuff late into this film. It is epic, intimate, and unholy in its cinematic brawn.

It is the supporting cast however, that elevate Macbeth in terms of emotional engagement. David Thewlis as the trusting, no-nonsense King Duncan; clad in leather and cloth over velvet and gold. Paddy Considine brings pathos and modesty to Banquo, a father is betrayed by his Thane in the worst possible, his only crime being loyalty to the crown and his son. And then there is Sean Harris, he who plays the craziest, deadliest type of villains, from the Harry Brown and A Lonely Place To Die to Mission Impossible 5, playing strongly against type as the noble MacDuff who loses his family to MacBeth’s ever increasing paranoia (shades of Lord Stannis/Sir Davos thread in the most recent chapter in Westeros.)

In short, while I was not emotionally caught up in this 2015 incarnation of Macbeth, I was nevertheless deeply engaged in sheer visual power of the thing that Shakespeare himself called, ‘this bloody business.’

Cinecast Episode 420 – Nightmare Fuel

It ain’t quite April 20th, but it’s four-twenty in the Cinecast house. Christmas Terror and misogynous Teddy bears bookend this episode with some stoner comedy and Shakespeare and Stop Motion in between. If your hosts seem to ramble and get lost in the weeds once in a while, that is apropos the episode number! Also, Rest In Peace Robert Loggia. Onwards!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 
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Trailer: Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa

Easily one of the cinematic highlights of the year, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson’s animated drama Anomalisa was one of the big sales at this years Toronto International Film Festival, and for good reason. The first trailer for the film arrives, and the focus is on ‘big question’ profundity, with a hint of intimacy. The humour of the film is not showcased here, but this is likely due to how little nuance and context you can pack into a short trailer. If you, like me, are deeply affected by the dulcet vocal tones of David Thewlis, then this is a small slice of heaven, as is the film.

My review of the film can be found here.

Suffice it to say, when this starts to platform release on December 30th (if you live in the US or Canada), you might want to clear some space in your calendar.

Cinecast Episode 411 – We Wanna See The Business

Despite seeing nearly 100 films combined at TIFF 2015, Ryan from The Matinee and Kurt indulge Andrew by getting out to the multiplex to see the latest Johnny Depp performance, as James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass. We have a spoiler discussion on that, but needless to say, no one was overly pleased with Andrew for suggesting it. Kurt and Ryan attempt to wrassle TIFF to the ground after 11 days of shared screenings and food. They, in part, hash out the bests, the beasts and the worsts (or in the cast of Love 3D, the wurst) of some of the films on hand.

But wait, there is more.

Ryan and Andrew have a Watch List which includes re-evaluated Spielberg, various Afflecks and a new-ish film starring Matthew Broderick. Hunker down with your favorite blankie, take out your blue contact lenses, and settle in for the show!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 

 
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TIFF 2015 Review: Anomalisa

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.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Queen and Country

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Two things that don’t always go together are war and comedy but leave it to writer/director John Boorman to bring the two together in a package that even I, someone who has peculiar comedic tastes and generally doesn’t care for war movies, enjoyed.

Queen and Country stars Callum Turner and Caleb Landry Jones as Bill and Percy respectively, army conscripts who have completed basic training and spend their days toiling under the watchful eye of Bradley (David Thewlis in a wonderfully comedic turn) teaching new recruits how to type. They don’t take their work or the military particularly seriously so when the opportunity arises to cause some trouble, Percy does just that by stealing a much beloved clock from the mess hall. That simple action sets into motion a series of events that allow Boorman to deal with some difficult aspects of war in a near perfect balance of comedy and drama.

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Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem” Trailer

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I’m never sure quite what to make of Terry Gilliam; what’s going on in his head and quite often what he chooses to display on screen. In the world of art, this is a good thing. With The Zero Theorem already having played a number of festival and screenings, there seems to be no light at the end of this surrealistic tunnel for the hopes of a theatrical release States-side.

And just to tease that notion a little bit more, a foreign trailer has dropped and I have to say it looks quite imaginative in only the way Gilliam can dream. It’s got all of his signature, Brazil-like set designs and canted angles. It also boasts quite the impressive cast; including a shorn Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton and thank the heavens someone has cast David Thewlis!

With the French subtitles, I feel a little bit like I am watching a trailer for a Jean-Pierre Jeunet picture (which again is a good thing), but check it out and see what you think. If we can ever get any kind of release over here, I will be one of the first in line.

Mr. Nice

mrniceWhile I’m pretty sure if I bothered to look around the web at all today, the comparisons with Ted Demme’s Blow are going to abound after seeing this trailer. But in my eyes that a good thing. It looks like pretty damn near the same film to me, just with different accents. But hey, since I love the wild, fun, glamourization of selling illegal drugs and the subsequent fall from grace (but hey, it was worth it) type of film, this one looks like it has loads of chic and charm.

I’m not a 100% knowledgeable on the Rhys Ifans filmography (which looks to be surprisingly epic), the two or three things I have seen him in have been rip roaringly funny. Here, he just looks like a stoner having the time of his life (at least for a while) as Howard Marks, an Oxford grad who became a major marijuana importer in the 1960s in the U.K. and managed to escape jail time by posing as an agent for MI5. Add indie icon (rapidly taking the place of Parker Posey for that title) Chloe Sevigny and Knox Harrington the famous video artist (aka David Thewlis) and it’s strong cast with a strong premise. It just look like they had a load of fun putting this together and quite often that makes for some great chemistry and a fine on-screen sparkle. Can’t wait for the final product.

Trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Steven Kloves
Producers: David Barron, David Heyman
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Bradley, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Cave, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Frank Dillane, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Natalia Tena, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Julie Walters, David Thewlis, Bonnie Wright
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 153 min.

Harry Potter tends to sneak up on me. The films come at regular intervals, they look good, have a great cast of actors I can get behind and a story I like but I’ve never walked away from a new Potter film feeling wowed. My Harry Potter experience can and will now be divided into two: before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and after.

HP6 Movie StillThe sixth entry into the franchise, Half-Blood Prince is a little darker, a little more comfortable in its skin and a film that knows exactly where it fits into the cannon. More than its predecessors, this one feels like part of a bigger story, a starting point for something important, urgent and dangerous which is likely to unfold in the final two instalments. The previous films were all entertaining enough but none managed to create an air of impending doom and gloom something this one does so in spades. Perhaps it’s the fact that this feels like a “set-up” film but there’s a definite sense that something big is brewing and as the closing credits rolled, I couldn’t help but wonder what is in store for the next one. So much so that I seriously considered giving the books a chance and reading ahead.

As someone who is largely unfamiliar with the minutia of the Potterverse, Half-Blood Prince starts off a little abruptly. I couldn’t recall how the previous film left off, what Harry was up to or why he was doing what he was doing and this film doesn’t hold your hand. It drops you in, assuming you know the details but also taking care to provide a little information for us ludites to follow along without feeling like I was wondering through a dark maze. I like the fact that writer Steve Kloves and director David Yates don’t feel the need to fill the opening few minutes with flashbacks or a retelling of what we’ve seen up to now and the opening beautifully sets up the rest of the film: hold on tight and don’t look away otherwise you’re going to be one lost muggle.

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