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ANOMALISA: A Stop Motion Emotional Masterpiece

Now playing at a indie art theater near you (and at least one multiplex near me):


ANOMALISA (Dirs. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, 2015)

At first, Charlie Kaufman’s stop motion animated follow-up to his toweringly brilliant 2008 opus SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, is a very strange experience.

Yet after a little while, I started to forget that I was watching life-like 3D-printed puppets, and began to feel like I was watching real people – sad, lonely, restless real people, who were much more affecting than in most dramas that actually feature real people.

But then the filmmakers, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson, would do something like having the protagonist’s face malfunction (and even detach like a mask), and I would be jarringly reminded what I was really viewing.

There’s also the element of that every character, men and women, except for the two leads is voiced by the same actor – Tom Noonan, who previously appeared in a pivotal role in SYNECDOCHE, who is actually credited here as “everyone else.” This takes a little getting used to, especially as there are times that Noonan sounds erringly like a soft-spoken Jimmy Fallon.

David Thewlis, best known for his role as Remus Lupin in the HARRY POTTER films, voices the principal protagonist, the middle-aged Michael Stone, author of the bestseller “How May I Help You Help Them: 5 Ways To Improve Customer Service.” Thewlis’ Michael, who at times sounds like a drunken Pierce Brosnan, has come to Cincinnati for a speaking engagement and after we witness him making awkward chit–chat with a cabbie, his hotel clerk, and busboy – again, all Noonan-voiced, but also with the same non-descript faces – he gets antsy and phones an ex named Bella, who lives in town that he hasn’t spoken to for over a decade.

Despite her shock at his call, Bella agrees to meet him for a drink at the hotel bar. The meeting doesn’t go well and Bella storms off. Later, Michael desperately and frantically finds himself running down his hotel’s hallway knocking on doors claiming he’s looking for a friend. He happens upon the room of two women, Emily and Lisa, a couple of sales reps who drove from Akron just to see Michael’s speech. Noonan voices Emily (again same face as everyone else), but Jennifer Jason Leigh, in her second stellar performance of 2015 after THE HATEFUL EIGHT, provides the slightly chubby, but pretty and nervously charming Lisa’s voice.

Michael invites them out for a drink – by this time he’s had a half a dozen Belvedere martinis – and the three share some laughs together. On the way back to their rooms, Michael asks Lisa if she’ll have a nightcap with him. Emily encourages Lisa to accept the offer (“he’s gorgeous”), and Lisa and Michael retire back to his room.

Michael is thoroughly taken by Lisa – continually telling her how lovely she is, exuding a loving warmth while she talks about her day and especially as she sings an acapella rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (she even does an Italian language version of the song). Lisa talks about learning the word “anomaly” from Michael’s book and relating to the term, and he dubs her “Anomalisa.”

Before you know it, we’re watching puppet porn, but, don’t worry, it’s nothing like the infamous sex scene in TEAM AMERICA. Somehow it’s about as tasteful as stop motion puppet intercourse can be.

After that, the film goes on a surreal tangent with a dream sequence in which Michael is called to an office in the hotel’s basement by the hotel manager, who tells Michael that he loves him, and that he shouldn’t be with Lisa.

Michael awakens and, in his shaken state, proposes that he wants to leave his wife and run off with Lisa. Things get screwy though when Michael has a bit of a breakdown at his keynote talk, and the film cuts to him returning to his wife, 5-year old son, and a bunch of surprise party people at his home – all, again, voiced by Noonan with that same damn face.

ANOMALISA is based on a play Kaufman wrote for composer Carter Burwell’s “Theater of the New Ear” series of what were called “sound plays” that was produced with the same cast in 2005, which explains Michael’s speech/rant that calls out the President as being “a war criminal.”

It’s great that the sex scene and the slew of f-bombs dropped make the film the first R-rated animated movie that’s ever gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, but I think it should’ve picked up a Best Screenplay nomination as well. Not one line of dialogue felt convoluted or off at all – as a written work, ANOMALISA is a flawless concoction.

But it’s also a beautifully acted and aesthetically pleasing piece, in which Thewlis and Leigh’s transcendent voice contributions breathe an exuberant amount of humanity into these abstract proceedings.


Yet again, Kaufman has made a movie that nobody else would make – or even think of making, even if he had help via co-director Johnson. Like just about every movie he’s made – from the mindblowing movies he’s written (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) to his directorial debut (SYNECDOCHE) – it’s brainy brilliance with a battered heart. 

A drama about real life using the fakest of props that somehow says more about confused loneliness than any other movie in recent memory, ANOMALISA is Kaufman’s latest masterpiece. Seek it out to see the most emotion anybody’s ever put into stop motion.

More later…

ANOMALISA: A Stop Motion Emotional Masterpiece

Now playing at a indie art theater near you (and at least one multiplex near me):


ANOMALISA (Dirs. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, 2015)

At first, Charlie Kaufman’s stop motion animated follow-up to his toweringly brilliant 2008 opus SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, is a very strange experience.

Yet after a little while, I started to forget that I was watching life-like 3D-printed puppets, and began to feel like I was watching real people – sad, lonely, restless real people, who were much more affecting than in most dramas that actually feature real people.

But then the filmmakers, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson, would do something like having the protagonist’s face malfunction (and even detach like a mask), and I would be jarringly reminded what I was really viewing.

There’s also the element of that every character, men and women, except for the two leads is voiced by the same actor – Tom Noonan, who previously appeared in a pivotal role in SYNECDOCHE, who is actually credited here as “everyone else.” This takes a little getting used to, especially as there are times that Noonan sounds erringly like a soft-spoken Jimmy Fallon.

David Thewlis, best known for his role as Remus Lupin in the HARRY POTTER films, voices the principal protagonist, the middle-aged Michael Stone, author of the bestseller “How May I Help You Help Them: 5 Ways To Improve Customer Service.” Thewlis’ Michael, who at times sounds like a drunken Pierce Brosnan, has come to Cincinnati for a speaking engagement and after we witness him making awkward chit–chat with a cabbie, his hotel clerk, and busboy – again, all Noonan-voiced, but also with the same non-descript faces – he gets antsy and phones an ex named Bella, who lives in town that he hasn’t spoken to for over a decade.

Despite her shock at his call, Bella agrees to meet him for a drink at the hotel bar. The meeting doesn’t go well and Bella storms off. Later, Michael desperately and frantically finds himself running down his hotel’s hallway knocking on doors claiming he’s looking for a friend. He happens upon the room of two women, Emily and Lisa, a couple of sales reps who drove from Akron just to see Michael’s speech. Noonan voices Emily (again same face as everyone else), but Jennifer Jason Leigh, in her second stellar performance of 2015 after THE HATEFUL EIGHT, provides the slightly chubby, but pretty and nervously charming Lisa’s voice.

Michael invites them out for a drink – by this time he’s had a half a dozen Belvedere martinis – and the three share some laughs together. On the way back to their rooms, Michael asks Lisa if she’ll have a nightcap with him. Emily encourages Lisa to accept the offer (“he’s gorgeous”), and Lisa and Michael retire back to his room.

Michael is thoroughly taken by Lisa – continually telling her how lovely she is, exuding a loving warmth while she talks about her day and especially as she sings an acapella rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (she even does an Italian language version of the song). Lisa talks about learning the word “anomaly” from Michael’s book and relating to the term, and he dubs her “Anomalisa.”

Before you know it, we’re watching puppet porn, but, don’t worry, it’s nothing like the infamous sex scene in TEAM AMERICA. Somehow it’s about as tasteful as stop motion puppet intercourse can be.

After that, the film goes on a surreal tangent with a dream sequence in which Michael is called to an office in the hotel’s basement by the hotel manager, who tells Michael that he loves him, and that he shouldn’t be with Lisa.

Michael awakens and, in his shaken state, proposes that he wants to leave his wife and run off with Lisa. Things get screwy though when Michael has a bit of a breakdown at his keynote talk, and the film cuts to him returning to his wife, 5-year old son, and a bunch of surprise party people at his home – all, again, voiced by Noonan with that same damn face.

ANOMALISA is based on a play Kaufman wrote for composer Carter Burwell’s “Theater of the New Ear” series of what were called “sound plays” that was produced with the same cast in 2005, which explains Michael’s speech/rant that calls out the President as being “a war criminal.”

It’s great that the sex scene and the slew of f-bombs dropped make the film the first R-rated animated movie that’s ever gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, but I think it should’ve picked up a Best Screenplay nomination as well. Not one line of dialogue felt convoluted or off at all – as a written work, ANOMALISA is a flawless concoction.

But it’s also a beautifully acted and aesthetically pleasing piece, in which Thewlis and Leigh’s transcendent voice contributions breathe an exuberant amount of humanity into these abstract proceedings.


Yet again, Kaufman has made a movie that nobody else would make – or even think of making, even if he had help via co-director Johnson. Like just about every movie he’s made – from the mindblowing movies he’s written (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) to his directorial debut (SYNECDOCHE) – it’s brainy brilliance with a battered heart. 

A drama about real life using the fakest of props that somehow says more about confused loneliness than any other movie in recent memory, ANOMALISA is Kaufman’s latest masterpiece. Seek it out to see the most emotion anybody’s ever put into stop motion.

More later…

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2015 (With Spillover)



As the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced tomorrow, I thought it was finally time to unveil my top 10 movies of the last year. I saw over a hundred movies on the big screen in 2015, and I found it to be a good, not great, year for film. 


There are a number of notable films I haven’t seen yet, but, of course, you can never see ‘em all. So let’s get right to my favorite motion picture picks of ’15, in descending order:



10. ROOM (Dir. 

Lenny Abrahamson)




Like I said in my review last fall, if Brie Larson doesn’t get a Oscar nomination for her harrowing role as a woman who’s been held captive in a backyard shed for five years taking care of her five-year old son (the result of a rape by her abductor), I’ll be very offended. The kid (Jason Tremblay) was pretty 
“on” too.


9. THE MARTIAN (Dir. Ridley Scott) Astronaut and can-do acheiver Matt Damon sciences the shit out of his predicament of being stuck on Mars, and it makes for an inspirational epic of cerebral sci-fi. Read my review here.

8. INSIDE OUT (Dirs. Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)


It’s been five years since a Pixar film made my top 10, and this one definitely wins a placing because, as I wrote last summer, it pulls every heartstring there is.

7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)



The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino, as it’s identified in its opening credits (who else does that?), is his most divisive work for sure, but its bloody Western mix of THE THING with RESERVOIR DOGS, with a splash of Agatha Christie, really entertained the bejesus out of me. Here’s why.

6. ANOMALISA (Dir. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman)



A stop-motion emotional masterpiece from the guy who brought you BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. And it’s the second film on my top 10 that has Jennifer Jason Leigh in it! My review of this delightful yet unnerving piece of high art will be posted when it opens in my area later this month.


5. CAROL (Dir. Todd Haynes)



Todd Haynes’ film follow-up to one of my favorites of 2007 (I’M NOT THERE) is a sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful look at a lesbian love affair in the oppressive era of 1950s New York City. The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are as pitch perfect as their setting. Read my review.

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
(Dir. George Miller)



As I wrote in my review last May, George Miller’s fourth entry in the MAD MAX series is a “brutally brilliant blast”; “an orgy of fire-breathing cars, pole-swingers, chainsaws, steampunk thugs, and gas fire explosions all given a heavy metal soundtrack by a masked musician with a flame-throwing electric guitar atop a vehicle piled with amplifiers.” And it’s even more awesome than that sounds.
3. SICARIO (Dir. 

Denis Villeneuve)




As modern action movies go, as much as I loved MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, this superbly dark cartel counterinsurgency thriller got to me more. The terrifically intense turns by Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro have a lot to do with that. My review.

2. THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)



Leonardo DiCaprio deserves (and will probably get) the Oscar for what he went through in the punishing wild here, but I predictTom Hardy will at least get a nomination too for his supporting part. The film itself, as well as Iñárritu, may also get nods, but coming after last year’s win for BIRDMAN, I wouldn’t bet on it. My review.


1. SPOTLIGHT (Dir. Tom McCarthy)



Tom McCarthy’s fifth film, his follow-up to last year’s infamous Adam Sandler flop THE COBBLER (WTF?), which focuses on the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team into the scandal of child molestation and systematic cover-up within the Catholic Church, is a clean, precise procedural about a extremely messy, and unsettling subject. 


The perfect storm of an excellent cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber; a sharp, involving screenplay, along with its top notch editing, score, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography all collide together to make this my #1 movie of 2015. I’ll be shocked if the Academy doesn’t reward multiple categories for this one. My review.

Spillover: In no particular order, here’s a bunch of other 2015 favorites:

LOVE & MERCY (Dir. Bill Pohlad)


THE BIG SHORT (Dir. Adam McKay)



STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (F. Gary Gray)



AMY (Dir. Asif Kapadia)



THE END OF THE TOUR (Dir. James Ponsoldt)


Legacyquel Tie: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Dir. J.J. Abrams) / CREED (Dir. Ryan Coogler)

STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle)

THE WALK (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)


EX MACHINA (Dir. Alex Garland)


THE SALT OF THE EARTH
(Dirs. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders)

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
(Dir. Noah Baumbach)



MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) – Hey, it’s a lot better than SPECTRE!


So, those are my picks for 2015. Let’s see what Oscar has to say about it tomorrow morning.


More later…

Todd Haynes’ CAROL: Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara Find Forbidden Love

Now playing at an indie art house, and maybe a multiplex or two, near you:


CAROL (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2015)

Todd Haynes sixth film, CAROL, his follow-up to his masterful 2007 Dylan deconstruction I’M NOT THERE, has been drawing comparisons to John Crowley’s BROOKLYN, which was released earlier in the prestige picture/Oscar bait season of fall 2015.


Both are New York City-set period pieces concerning young women who work in Macy’s-style department stores, both illustrate the coming-of-age experiences of these women in the restrictive society of the early 1950s, and both are based on bestselling, award-winning novels.

And there’s the fact that BROOKLYN director Crowley was once even attached to direct CAROL.

But while BROOKLYN is a well made, and very good looking drama, Haynes’ CAROL is something else entirely – a much more sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful work, which is stunningly gorgeous while BROOKLYN is merely pretty.

An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 book “The Price of Salt” (later re-named “Carol”), the film is told through the eyes of Rooney Mara as 20-something aged shopgirl Therese Belivet, who becomes intrigued by Cate Blanchett as the much older (40-something) Carol Aird, a wealthy New Jersey housewife, when they meet over a counter at Frankenberg’s department store.

Carol is Christmas shopping and asks for Therese’s help looking for a doll for her daughter. The two converse pleasantly, then Carol forgets her gloves on the counter when she leaves. Therese arranges for the gloves to be sent to Carol’s home. Carol calls Therese at work to thank her for sending the gloves, and invites her out to lunch where they hit it off further.

In the meantime, we learn that Carol is going through what could become a messy divorce from her angry husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), while Therese, who dreams of being a photographer, has a boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who wants to marry her, and live together in France. We also meet Sarah Paulson as Carol’s bestfriend/former lover, who’s relationship is a source of Harge’s chargrin.

Carol invites Therese over for dinner, but the night, and their budding romance, is interrupted by Harge, who demands that his wife go with him and their daughter Rindy (Kk Heim) to Florida for Christmas, but she refuses.

Later, Harge’s lawyer cites a “morality clause” against Carol that would grant him sole custody of Rindy.

Despite this situation, or because of it, Carol and Therese embark on a road trip out west, before which Therese breaks up with the increasingly frustrated Richard.

On the road, the pair gets closer but things go askew when they find out that a P.I. (Cory Michael Smith) that Harge hired to get incriminating evidence on Carol, has been recording their lovemaking (tastefully shot, of course) through their hotel wall.

To fight for custody of Rindy, Carol departs back to New York, leaving Therese behind and their relationship up in the air.

Of all of Haynes’ fine films, CAROL most resembles his 2002 Douglas Sirkian-inspired drama FAR FROM HEAVEN, which also dealt with the taboo of homosexuality in the McCarthy era. But while HEAVEN had a high gloss to its look, CAROL, shot by the same cinematographer, Edward Lachman, has more of a subtle, darker grain. Many shots echo Life Magazine photography in their muted yet still vivid colors.

The always reliable composer (and long-time Coen brothers collaborator) Carter Burwell’s score is a beautiful embellishment to the proceedings. It swoons and swells effectively throughout, never calling too much attention to itself. Mixed into the soundtrack are a well picked batch of ‘40s and ‘50s songs, mostly Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks tracks).

But it’s the performances by Blanchett (yes, there will be an Oscar nomination) and Mara (maybe) that stand out the strongest. Both women bring to nervous life the dialogue in the sharp screenplay by Phyllis Nagy (another nomination, I bet), with Mara’s story arc of a woman blooming finding confidence after years of shadowy confliction, nicely blending with Blanchett’s worried perseverance.

CAROL is another late year addition to my top 10 of 2015 (coming soon!). From the absorbing aura of its near perfect period design and visuals, to its tense yet tender handling of its love story, along, of course, with the terrific turns by Blanchett and Mara – it all made a very poignant impression on me.

More later…

THE REVENANT: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)

There are a couple of things that people are talking about pertaining to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s sixth film, the follow-up to his brilliant, Academy Award-winning BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), releasing today in the Triangle.


First, the notion that Leonardo DiCaprio will likely win a Best Actor Academy Award for his powerfully pained performance as the pelt hunting, Indian killing, bear fighting, death defying 19th-century American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Second, there’s the bear itself – an incredibly convincing CGI creation of a ginormous grizzly that attacks, mauls, and severely injures DiCaprio’s Glass. The scary scene in which this happens has some folks even crying “rape!,” but while it does look like the character is getting violated, it’s a female bear who’s protecting her cubs.

A friend joked, “I bet the bear will win the Oscar!”

But beyond the bullet points of the Leo buzz and the bear lies an epic, uncompromising tale of survival that has just earned a prominent slot on my soon to be posted top 10 films of 2015.


DiCaprio dominates as the title character (the title, THE REVENANT, means a person who has returned as if from the dead), but on the sidelines we’ve got a gruff, angry Tom Hardy as Glass’s biggest adversary besides the bear (he’s the guy who decides to leave Glass’ ailing ass behind after all), Domhnall Gleeson (EX MACHINA, BROOKLYN, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – yep, he’s been getting around lately) as the hunting party leader, Captain Andrew Henry; Will Poulter as the young mountain man Jim Bridger, and, even younger, Forrest Goodluck as Glass’ half-Native American son, Hawk.

That last bit, about Glass’s son, is fictional as the real life fur trapper/explorer didn’t have a son or the wife that we see getting killed in his tortured flashbacks throughout the film, but when a film is this riveting and driven, I’m not complaining about such embellishments.

Set in treacherous, snowy Montana and South Dakota in the early 1820s, this adaptation of Michael Punke’s “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” follows the infamous hunting expedition led by Gleeson’s Captain Henry into the uncharted post-Louisiana Purchase territory.

In the film’s stunningly shot opening sequence, the hunters and trappers get ambushed by a tribe of Arikara Indians, and the survivors along with what they could save of their pelts, escape on a boat down river. Glass voices that, to avoid further attacks, they should ditch the boat and continue on foot – a plan that Fitzgerald doesn’t favor.


This is where the bear comes in. While deep in the woods away from the others, Glass comes across the mother grizzly and her cubs and gets the mother of all maulings.

Afterwards, the crew carries him on a makeshift stretcher, but Fitzgerald, as always voicing displeasure, wants to kill or abandon him so they can complete the damn mission and get the hell home. In a struggle over Glass, Fitzgerald kills Hawk.

So Glass finds himself literally left for dead, but despite the dangerous odds he crawls, climbs, and swims through hundreds of miles of wilderness to exact revenge on Fitzgerald. 

While it doesn’t have the single take illusion that BIRDMAN beautifully built up (and that Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for), THE REVENANT does traffic in sweeping unbroken tracking shots with the same mastery. Returning cinematographer Lubezki’s camera glides through the scenery intoxicatingly, beginning many scenes at ground level and ending them trailing off into the campfire smoke in the sky.

This gets us immersed in the open spaces, making us feel like we’re right there with DiCaprio in his suffering, wounded state. The man definitely deserves to get the gold for his no holds barred commitment to the character. The guy’s patented boyish charm is nowhere to be found here; what we’ve got here in his portrayal of Glass is a weathered 41-year old who’s been through hell and back and looks it.

Hardy, who along with Gleeson has been working a lot this last year, may get a nomination for this as well. Between this and his work in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and LEGEND, it feels like Academy voters will surely take notice.

THE REVENANT may be more grueling than a good time for some moviegoers, but I found it to be more rewarding than punishing. It’s a towering testament to the emotional and physical strength that one finds in themselves when bracing the overwhelming wild of the American west.

When it comes to lengthy, brutal Westerns set in icy terrain this season, maybe this is the one that should’ve been shot in 70mm.


Postscript: Check out this post by by friends at Movies Like Movies6 Movies Like THE REVENANT – Brutal Survival Action.

More later…