Monthly Archives: December 2015

Film Review: Anomalisa

Film Review: Anomalisa

Nobody looks at the world quite like Charlie Kaufman. He showed himself to be an incredibly talented writer with Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In 2008, he added the role of director for Synecdoche, New York.

These films share a view of life as Rubik’s cube with all squares the same color. Why do we keep watching? Because he makes you believe he’s on the verge of figuring it out.

Kaufman is a wizard at showing us truths about ourselves without preaching. His characters just happen to go through learning experiences that are similar to the ones you and I encounter. Which brings me to his latest film, Anomalisa.Anomalisa Cigarette

This story began as part of composer Carter Burwell’s 2005 project called Theater of the New Ear. Kaufman, together with Joel and Ethan Coen, wrote one-act plays were called “sound plays”. Actors read their scripts on music stands, with musicians and a Foley artist sitting nearby.

The sound play Anomalisa only had three performances, but that was enough to create interest in making a film from it. Funding came primarily from a Kickstarter campaign. Somewhere in the transition to film, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson (Community’s stop-motion Christmas episode) decided to render Anomalisa entirely in stop-motion.

It’s helpful, but not essential, to know an item of psychological trivia before taking on this story. In Fregoli syndrome, the patient believes someone who keeps changing appearance is menacing him/ her. The hotel in Anomalisa is the Al Fregoli. Most of the characters sound alike, because Tom Noonan voices all but two of them.

The protagonist, Michael Stone, is given a lot of vocal subtlety by David Thewlis. Michael is an inspirational speaker par excellence, traveling to Cincinnati so he can give a speech called “How May I Help You To Help Them?” It’s a speech he’s given a few dozen times, and his lack of enthusiasm shows.Anomalisa Steam

Michael has women on his mind. He’s thinking seriously about leaving his wife. Besides that, he’s in the same city as Bella, a woman he abandoned eleven years before. Michael can’t resist calling her-they are in the same city, after all. Their reunion goes every bit as well as you’d expect.

When you least expect it, in the middle of humdrum chaos, Michael meets someone. Her name is Lisa, and she adores Michael’s work. Lisa, who is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, brings the promise of a spark to Michael’s rather bland routine.

The two connect- and far more graphically than you’d expect in a stop-motion animation film. From there, Kaufman plunges these characters into a situation that is 100% human, and unforgettable.Anomalisa Lisa

The three voice actors-Thewlis, Leigh, and Noonan-are terrific. All reprise their stage roles here.

For scoring, Burwell used some themes from the original performances but also wrote new ones. He wrote, “In some ways, the musical challenges had not changed-I was trying…to emphasize the humanity and vulnerability of the characters so that, as they open their hearts, we open ours to them as well.”

Johnson said in an interview with Variety that a typical animated film spends two years on research on development. Anomalisa had only six weeks, virtually unheard-of in the industry.

Every item on screen had to be fabricated. The pictures hanging on the wall, glasses used in the bar scenes, even the buttons on character’s clothing. Johnson also mentioned in the Variety interview that the male character’s belt buckles work. The film used 18 Michael figures and 6 Lisas.Anomalisa Painting Lisa

Lighting the small set posed special challenges, as did lighting the characters. Trying to get light reflected in the character’s eyes without casting glare onto the character’s faces was, in Kaufman’s word, “crazy-making”.

The end result justifies their efforts. You acclimate quickly to Anomalisa’s not-quite-natural world populated by hinge-headed puppets. You recognize its everyday banality-the empty greetings, the pat conversations. When you are most off-guard, Kaufman presents his message about love and the dangers of having it compete with one’s killer angels.

Theme: Stop Motion

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: The Adventures of Prince Achmed  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-the-adventures-of-prince-achmed/

Stop Motion: List For Week Ending Jauary 3, 2016  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/stop-motion-list-for-week-ending-january-3-2016/

 

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Stop Motion: List for Week Ending January 3, 2016

Stop Motion: List for Week Ending January 3, 2016

This week’s list contains films with stop-motion animation. A touchy area within film. Animation aficionados don’t consider it animation, yet it isn’t the same as live-action film. Maybe the time has come to recognize stop-motion as a unique area within film and restructure the major awards accordingly. This is not intended as an all-inclusive list.Continue Reading

Film Review: 45 Years

Film Review: 45 Years

Loss of trust between a husband and wife is the issue at the center of Andrew Haigh’s new film, 45 Years. Nuanced storytelling and top-notch acting from the leads (particularly Charlotte Rampling) create the portrait of a marriage thrust into crisis at a moment when both partners expect to celebrate. The film opens on MondayContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Rebecca

Film Appreciation: Rebecca

Few unseen characters have as much impact on a story as Rebecca de Winter. The stunning and widely adored first wife of Maxim de Winter drowns before Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca even opens. Even so, her influence continues to the point that she’s very nearly a character in the novel. The 1940 film adaptation takesContinue Reading

Lingering: List for Week Ending December 27, 2015

Lingering: List for Week Ending December 27, 2015

This week’s list has films where unrequited love plays a major role in the story. Sometimes, as in Casablanca, the lovers were actually together at one point. Not so much Phantom of the Opera, where it’s all in the Phantom’s fevered imagination. What matters here is the level of emotion, which is equally intense for allContinue Reading

Film Review: Hitchcock Truffaut

Film Review: Hitchcock Truffaut

Today the 1966 book Hitchcock Truffaut has cult status among film buffs and aspiring filmmakers. It is based on a series of taped interviews between directors Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut in August 1962. A woman named Helen Scott acted as translator, but otherwise, it’s just the two of them. Truffaut started his career asContinue Reading

Auteur! Auteur! List For Week Ending December 20, 2015

Auteur! Auteur! List For Week Ending December 20, 2015

Our list this week has documentaries about film directors (when possible, being directed by other well-known directors). This is not intended as an all-inclusive list. Reader suggestions are welcome. If you know an addition for this list, please write using the comments below. Hitchcock Truffaut (Reviewed in Thinking Cinema,  December 18, 2015) http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-review-hitchcock-truffaut/ Orson Welles: TheContinue Reading

Film Review: The Danish Girl

Film Review: The Danish Girl

Historian and novelist Shelby Foote once said that plot isn’t what happens, but how you tell what happens. That quote is very applicable to Tom Hooper’s new film, The Danish Girl. The film, an adaptation of the novel by David Ebershoff, is based on real events. However, Lucinda Coxon’s script downplays certain facts and completelyContinue Reading