Anomalisa reviews

Sabin
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Re: Anomalisa reviews

Postby Sabin » Tue Dec 15, 2015 3:58 pm

I don't think Anomalisa has much of a chance of winning in a field with Inside Out. While they both have something to say about human sadness, one is a full journey while the other is an adventure in miniature. It's ironic that only Charlie Kaufman's first animated film feels like his least animated film. He wants to immerse the audience in hotel existence and the minutiae of encounter. I found the pacing extremely deliberate, refreshingly so. For a good stretch, the film's tension comes from the knowledge that there is something wrong with Michael that he is not talking about and he is seeking salvation in somebody who has no idea. So for a while it's a film about two people finding something that they need in each other. Lisa (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who's having a great year) is another in a line of female messes in Kaufman's films. She's more like Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich. I disliked that he felt the need to spell out "Anomalisa" in the film, but what makes her stand out from Kaufman's other characters is that there is nothing special about her except what Michael sees in her.

I think I know what BJ means by it becoming a choose your own adventure story. Halfway through the film, the film settles into a very Kaufman-esque struggle that feels almost like retreading Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind...only to immediately subvert that development and go in a very different direction. While I admire Kaufman's intentions in subverting this development to for something more honest, I'm not sure I found it very satisfying. Maybe I would be a little more forgiving had Michael's Bush administration angst felt a little more precise and Michael's position as a customer service motivational speaker never really gets past the idea phase. He doesn't say anything that rings true, profound, or ironic, which might be Kaufman's point but it doesn't feel very satisfying. Kaufman is going for an elliptical ending. The film begins with a letter from a ghost from Michael's past, he seeks her out, finds nothing, finds something new in someone else, leaves her behind, and she leaves him a letter, and he will undoubtedly repeat this journey again later on. I admired this on an intellectual level rather than an emotional one.

There is much to admire about Anomalisa, from its textures to its score, but I can't say I quite loved it like Kaufman's other work. That said, I felt the same way about Synecdoche, New York which I now consider a great film.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Re: Anomalisa reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Nov 14, 2015 9:46 pm

For much of Anomalisa's running time, it felt to me like the least Kaufman-esque movie Charlie Kaufman ever wrote. Much of the first portion of the movie is pretty straightforward, a wryly observed and dryly funny portrait of a very lonely man and the singular woman with whom he makes a connection. The pacing is a bit deliberate, but it's quirky and amusing throughout, and the film's central conceit -- that the protagonist views everyone else in the world as some version of the same person, until an anomaly appears -- is certainly freshly conceived.

In the last half hour, though, the movie definitely goes full Kaufman, and at this point it sort of just becomes "choose your own adventure" in terms of how you want to interpret it. I have to say I found this the least successful portion of the movie -- for me it dwelled too much on the random, and by the end of the film, the scenes in this section just hadn't cohered into a fully satisfying conclusion for me. Ultimately, I found the film a compelling curiosity, and I'm certainly interested in hearing theories about what it all means, but I don't think it's as fully successful as Kaufman's best work.

I think this will most likely win some of the critics' animated prizes, but I'm about 50/50 on its chances with Oscar -- I think it could very well ride the acclaim to a nomination, but the animation branch has also shown a tendency to resist more adult driven animation (and with the graphic sex, this certainly qualifies), and I wouldn't be shocked if it were left off for some more commercial efforts either.

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Anomalisa reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Sep 06, 2015 1:57 pm

I don't know what to make of this one -- whether it'll even be released this year, or comprehensible to any but the most limited audiences. But critics seem on the enthusiastic side, and if eligible might win the critics' animated category.

Variety

Peter Debruge
Chief International Film Critic @AskDebruge

In “Anomalisa,” an inspirational speaker in crisis checks into Cincinnati’s (fictional) Al Fregoli hotel, named for a delusional condition in which paranoiacs believe that those around them are not who they appear to be, but a single tormentor hiding behind multiple disguises. That’s a helpful bit of trivia to consider before entering into Charlie Kaufman’s latest brain teaser, this one originally mounted (just twice) for composer Carter Burwell’s “Theater of the New Ear” sound-play experiment and rescued from obscurity by a team of imaginative producers who thought it might make an interesting stop-motion project — which it does, exceptional even, although it’s unclear just who they imagined might be the audience for such a cerebral cult offering.

“Anomalisa’s” existence is a minor miracle on multiple levels, from the Kickstarter campaign that funded it (the credits give “special thanks” to 1,070 names) to the oh-so-delicate way the film creeps up on you, transitioning from a low-key dark night of the soul into something warm, human and surprisingly tender. This despite the fact that it’s told entirely through puppets — which proved to be plenty expressive in “Being John Malkovich,” the film that put Kaufman on the cinematic map. Now, it’s been seven long years since his directorial debut, “Synecdoche, New York,” and Kaufman owes his return at least in part to co-director Duke Johnson (the “Moral Orel” helmer who oversaw “Community’s” all-stop-motion Christmas episode).

Here, working on a modest budget with limited sets (an airplane, the Al Fregoli and a couple other locations) and just three voice actors, Kaufman recovers creative control of an eccentric little project that ultimately manages to move us as deeply as his more ambitious, format-melting fare. The connection starts with road warrior Michael Stone (David Thewlis) touching down in Cincinnati, where he’s scheduled to give one of his “How May I Help You to Help Them?” pep talks before hopping on a plane home the following day.

Michael knows his speech inside-out, but for some reason, the words ring hollow tonight. He’s been thinking about leaving his wife; he’s been thinking about Bella, the woman he walked out on 10 years earlier. Bella lives in Cincinnati. After settling into his hotel room (have you ever seen a stop-motion puppet use the loo? or gaze out the window to find a man masturbating in the office park across the way?), he gives Bella a call and invites her over.

Remember the aforementioned Fregoli syndrome — that peculiar ailment whose sufferers believe everybody’s the same person out to get them? (Fregoli also happens to be the pen name Kaufman used when he first unveiled the play in 2005.) There’s a reason why every time Bella opens her mouth, we hear the flat, vaguely monotonous sound of Tom Noonan’s voice. The same thing happens when anybody in “Anomalisa” speaks: Michael’s wife, his son, the taxi driver or hotel concierge — all Noonan. Anybody except Lisa, that is. Her voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s actually) cuts through the din and forces Michael out of his room to find its source.

Where the film had seemed almost listless in its opening act, something clicks when Lisa enters the picture. There’s a liveliness to Leigh’s voice, and it’s reflected in both her body language and facial expressions, so much as either can be conveyed by these limited-range stop-motion puppets. Michael invites Lisa for a drink, dragging her friend Emily (Noonan again) along to the hotel bar. He wants to bring her back to his room, where he makes an indecent proposal, and she nearly walks out. And then the ice melts, and they connect — over a Cyndi Lauper song, of all things. Watching them, expect to feel an indescribable mix of affinity and loneliness, as only Kaufman can achieve, that same ache that accompanied “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or burned alongside Samantha Morton’s smoldering house in “Synecdoche, New York.”

What follows is both beautiful and heartbreaking, but ultimately unforgettable. Kaufman has done it again, writing a deeply flawed male protagonist and a woman who seems so incredibly ideal despite (or perhaps due to) her imperfections, and he’s engineered it so that we fall in love: Michael’s grey and overcast, Lisa just wants to walk in the sun, and for as long as he can make the moment last, she’s the one. The anomaly. The Anomalisa.

Of course, that feeling, which you never want to end, can’t go on forever. The movie itself is only 90 minutes, and however Joycean may be Kaufman’s postmodern spirit, he doesn’t share ol’ Sunny Jim’s belief in epiphanies. Michael experiences such a breakthrough, or thinks he does, only to have it implode and crumble back into itself in a scene that is so wonderfully Kaufmanian: a chorus of Noonans offering themselves at Michael’s feet, the death of love, the implied womp womp of a sad-trombone ending (not literally, of course).

In terms of actual music, it’s surprising how little of Burwell’s music features into “Anomalisa,” considering that the play was first staged in concert with a live orchestration. Surely this must be one of the typically melancholy composer’s gentlest scores, tinkling away ever so lightly in the background, subtly lifting the spirit of an otherwise heavy piece — much as Leigh does with her voice.

So much of the experience relies on listening, depending as much on the actors’ intonations as the words themselves. Naturally, the animated format directs our attention to the visual, but it’s best to think of this as a bonus — and, frankly, not to be too particular about the technique. Kaufman and Johnson use a form of face-replacement stop-motion, not unlike that featured (to far more polished effect) by Laika Studios, where the characters’ faces are split into upper and lower halves and switched out for every frame. The expressions themselves — brows and jowls — are generated via color 3D printers, which yield a grainy vaguely flesh-toned series of interchangeable masks.

For some reason (likely budget, though it could also be justified by the film’s self-conscious nature), the directors opted not to erase the joints in post, leaving a conspicuous seam running across the puppets’ faces at all times. By design, Michael’s noggin features more color and detail than all the others, and beneath those baggy doll clothes, they have real rubber bodies, which come in handy for what the MPAA has deemed “graphic nudity” (this being the org that nearly slapped an NC-17 on “Team America” for “graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language — all involving puppets”).

Working on a fraction of the budget of last year’s po-mo “The Lego Movie,” “Anomalisa” likewise embraces the limitations of its “cast” — although there are other glitches still to be ironed out, including a weird rippling effect that appears across the faces in most scenes. Perhaps the inks weren’t consistent, or maybe slight differences in position between one faceplate and the next bounced the light differently. Whatever the cause, the resulting flicker distracts from what we should be looking at — which is how wonderfully expressive these otherwise rudimentary foot-tall puppets manage to be. As when Wes Anderson dabbled in stop-motion for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” it’s a strange medium in which to find a perfectionist. But that’s life, which, ironically, Kaufman and company seem to have done a fine job of conjuring in this most artificial of formats.


Hollywood Reporter
by David Rooney

The Bottom Line
An authentic, hand-made original.

Whether in his screenplays for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or his directing debut, Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman's surreal, cerebral chronicles of despair, obsession and failure are like nothing else out there. So it was a given that his first animated feature, Anomalisa, co-directed with stop-motion specialist Duke Johnson, was going to be another idiosyncratic entry in a small but wildly distinctive body of work. However, that doesn't nearly do justice to the beguiling poignancy and emotional nuance of this funny-sad, haunting meditation on depression, disguised as a melancholy love story.

Funded via Kickstarter and in production for more than two years, the material began life as an original "radio play" performed in New York and L.A. as part of composer Carter Burwell's Theater of a New Ear project, involving Joel and Ethan Coen as well as Kaufman. The one-act works were performed by seated actors reading from scripts, with live musical accompaniment by Burwell and sound effects created on the spot by a foley artist. Anomalisa was written by Kaufman under the pseudonym Franco Fregoli.

A glance at the Wikipedia page for "Fregoli delusion" provides hints as to what Kaufman might be getting at — in less cryptic fashion than some of his prior works — with its description of a paranoid disorder in which the sufferer believes that different people are instead one single person out to persecute them, who assumes various appearances.

Translating a non-visual performance piece to film might have been challenging, but no less than his collaborations with Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, Kaufman's work with Johnson has yielded something quite unique, graced by gorgeously plaintive music from Burwell. The naive-style puppet animation has similarities to the Adult Swim series Moral Orel and Mary Shelley's Frankenhole, on which Johnson worked, as well as his stop-motion animated episode of Community (series creator Dan Harmon is an executive producer here).

But there's something more disquieting about these puppets. Their faces look like vintage marionette dolls, split into two plates, with seams cutting across the eyes and around the hair- and jawlines. And the saggy, puffy imperfections of their bodies, when we see the two key characters naked, are heartbreakingly real.

The film opens with a steadily amplified din of overlapping conversation, as Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) flies into Cincinnati for a speaking engagement. A Brit living in Los Angeles with his wife and son, he's the author of a motivational book on customer service titled How May I Help You Help Them?, and a minor celebrity in his field. His darkly funny early interactions with various people — a seatmate on his flight, a chatty cab driver, the Fregoli Hotel desk clerk and bellboy — all suggest his barely contained impatience with their invasive behavior and ingratiating small talk.

Kaufman and Johnson create a vivid, dismally relatable world here, both droll and dreary, but fascinating precisely because of its numbing banality. Even the upscale, bland modernity of the suite that Michael checks into is observed with sly humor; it's an instantly recognizable environment rendered absurd by the directors' clarity of vision. And Michael's tired routines — phone home, dial room service, practice his speech, go down the hall for ice, watch a snippet of My Man Godfrey (also animated) on TV — begin to take on a strange profundity in their bleak ordinariness.

But antidepressants haven't entirely dulled Michael’s desire to grasp at a moment of happiness. He tries to reconnect with a local woman, Bella Amarossi, on whom he walked out 11 years earlier. She has remained single and disappointed, and the pathos of her still-bruised feelings is unexpectedly raw. It doesn't end well.

All the other characters, irrespective of gender, age or relationship to Michael, are voiced with scarcely modulated delivery by Tom Noonan. The one exception — or anomaly, if you will — is Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa, whose voice cuts through hotel walls and brain static to summon Michael out of his martini-dulled torpor and bring him momentarily back to life.

She's a customer service rep for an Ohio baked goods company, a dumpy, unsophisticated woman with low self-esteem, a facial burn scar and a shabby romantic history. "I play the Jew's harp a little," she offers in one typically awkward getting-to-know-you moment. "I don't like to say 'Jew's harp' because it's offensive to Jews." But during the night they spend together, drinking, talking, singing Cyndi Lauper and getting down to some graphic puppet sex, she acquires almost magical qualities, causing Michael to believe she's the only other real person in a world where everyone else is just one nightmarish person who wants a piece of him. That fear is illustrated in a priceless dream sequence.

Clearly, anyone familiar with Kaufman's work will know that the idyll with Lisa was never going to last, and the spectacular public meltdown that seals its conclusion is weirdly shattering. But as a single-night romantic interlude enriched by infinitely detailed context, it's a superb set-piece. And like Scarlett Johansson's remarkable voice work in Her, Anomalisa provides Thewlis and Leigh with two of the very best roles of their careers.

It wouldn't be Kaufman if all the pieces made perfect sense, and an antique Japanese mechanized doll that Michael purchases for his son at an erotica emporium (he was directed to a "toy store") is an amusing head-scratcher. But this is a wonderfully odd consideration of those questions about love, pain, solitude and human connection we all ask; its emotional power creeps out from under the subtle humor and leaves a subcutaneous imprint that lingers long after the movie is over. It needs an adventurous distributor to help it extend the Kaufman cult and find the adoring audience it richly deserves.


Screen Daily
By Lee Marshall

Dirs: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson. US, 2015, 90 mins

Charlie Kaufman is back – with a wistful, resonant film, a bracing, wry, honest dose of cinematic melancholy, in which an anonymous chain hotel somewhere in Cincinnati becomes an existential and emotional staging post for a depressed motivational speaker. Kaufman co-directed Anomalisa with stop-motion director Duke Johnson – for this is an animated feature, which recasts Kaufman’s own ‘sound play’ of the same name – performed on stage in New York, LA and London in 2005 – in puppet form, with voices supplied by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan.

Between 1999, when Being John Malkovich put Kaufman the writer on the radar, and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind in 2004, when his star was so high that he began to outshine the directors of ‘his’ films, Kaufman was on a roll. Since then, he’s been in something of stop-motion mode himself, with the commercial disappointment of his first film as director, the tricksy post-modern experiment Synecdoche, New York (2008), proving troublesome for future funding. Enter Kickstarter, which helped finance Anomalisa by contributing just over $400,000 to the film’s budget (hence over a minute of donor credits in the end titles). Downbeat, but in a good sense, Anomalisa will not be an easy sell for HanWay, but it does demand to be seen – if only for some of the most realistic puppet sex scenes ever committed to film.

Based in LA, but currently in Cincinnati for a talk he’s due to deliver, the film’s unhappy central figure, Michael Stone – voiced in a tired Lancashire accent by David Thewlis – is the middle-aged British author of motivational business book How May I Help You Help Them?, aimed at firms keen to improve their customer satisfaction ratings (one of the film’s running jokes is Michael’s ill-disguised impatience with the cheery, chatty hotel staff who apply his lessons to the letter).

Bored and with time to kill, he calls up Bella, a former partner he dumped, with no explanation, ten years earlier. She agrees to meet him in the hotel, but when it becomes clear he’s only interested in getting her into bed again the still fragile Bella storms out. Stone eventually gets lucky with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the mousier of two girls from Akron who idolise the author and are in town to hear him speak.

Told thus, Anomalisa seems almost a short film, but the back-of-a-postcard storyline insulates Kaufman from the overweening ambition of Synecdoche and allows the director to focus on an imperfect man’s small moment of crisis in a nowhere place, and to expand it from the inside. As with Lost In Translation, a hotel with its minibars and muzak, its frustrating electronic key cards and endless, reassuring variations on browns and beiges, becomes a limbo, a transitional space where things unravel, but also where new possibilities seem just a room-service-call away.

And if Michael – a bit of a bastard, in the final analysis – is a tough everyman to spend 90 minutes with, Lisa is a delightful creation, a woman who seems to have taken up permanent residence in Low-Self-Esteem Avenue yet, when confronted by someone who seems, whatever his motives, to take an interest in her, reveals a quiet strength. There are plenty of classic Kaufman touches too to keep the fanboys happy – including a wonderful dream sequence involving the hotel’s deputy manager, a golf cart, and a call centre full of operators with identical faces.

The animated form of the film is central to its effect – puppets (remember the Heloise and Abelard marionettes from Being John Malkovich?) are especially weird when they behave like real people, Kaufman reminds us, because they tend to exaggerate the mundane by turning it into a sort of ritualistic theatre. And these puppets are particularly disconcerting: realistic, down to Michael’s saggy paunch and genitalia, yet with the cracks between their facial plates still visible, so that the forehead and lower face are separated by a line at eye height, with both divided, mask-like, from the back of the head.

Less convincing is the device of having every character who is not Michael or Lisa voiced, in the same male, mid-American accent, by Tom Noonan. Yes, we get that life, and people, have become colourless for Michael, hence his fascination with the voice of the only woman who sounds different to him – but it’s still a technique that probably worked better on stage, where the actors were visible, than it does here.

Carter Burwell’s score is a delight, sometimes tuning cheekily into the hotel’s own muzak, but in other places underlining the poignancy that is at the heart of a film which, more than Kaufman’s previous work, seems to trade chords with Wes Anderson in his more humanistic, least whimsical moments. That said, there’s also a fair bit of painful-to-watch awkwardness here which recalls, at times, a British strain of comedy-of-embarrassment, part Mike Leigh, part Ricky Gervais. But it’s difficult to imagine Anderson, Leigh or Gervais crafting one of the most believable sex scenes we’ve seen on screen in recent years – how ironic that it should be acted out by puppets.


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