Anomalisa (2015)

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Entrancingly sombre and creative; Charlie Kaufman is back but with stop-motion to add to his unique repertoire. It’s a wonderful new layer on top of a beautifully thoughtful story, which even though it isn’t his strongest, it becomes more engaging because of the way everything looks. As if an anomaly itself, this is a movie that deserves the praise and award nominations because it is such a distinct animated sensation.

Self help customer service guru Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is staying over at a Cincinnati hotel for one night before the next day’s book reading. However everyone sounds and appears the same to him, that is until he encounters Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who he falls for and wants to run away with.

I have been aching to see this film for ages, from the first time I saw the trailer and got captivated by how Kaufman it looked. As an added bonus it was stop-motion which is an art form I love and admire for the patience people have to make it happen. Thankfully I have now seen it and can say it was worth the wait. It’s a surreal watch at times with a squinted comic edge that works so well, as things fail around Michael you can’t help but laugh at the awkwardness or typical human elements of what’s happening.

One of the best qualities of this movie lies with the dialogue, for where the plot doesn’t go places the conversations and detail in Kaufman’s writing is smart and personal. There’s an assured vulnerability to both the main characters as they tangle into each other’s lives over one night. The way they talk to each other is full of insight and you end up looking past the puppetry animation and buy into Michael and Lisa as real and lonely people.

Duke Johnson who co-directed this film must be commended for his astonishing and somewhat eerie puppet designs that fill this feature. It’s even more fascinating to realise that these characters were 3D printed, which does give them this special look, with slitted marks defining their faces and making them identifiable to this film. On top of this, the puppet idea is taken a step further than ‘Team America: World Police’ as we see fellatio and sex happen between stop-motion figures in what could be the funniest yet sweetest scene this year.

Musically, this film is handed a lyrical and soft finesse by Carter Burwell who helps the movie sound effortless and hypnotizing, as if we too get lost among the hotel corridors and taken aback by the similar sounding civilians surrounding Michael. The nightmare sequence is both scored greatly and is a fantastic idea to play around with, though from Kaufman I wished it had have been real, manifesting the story a little more as Michael questions his own identity but that’s not his story! Also Leigh performing two versions of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ is hilarious but poetic.

I can only say that the big fault for me was the plot, story-wise I was a bit saddened to not have something more unique. The visuals and dialogue were incredible but the narrative was a little ‘Lost in Translation’ and nothing else. It’s only one negative I could find because Kaufman usually comes up with something inventive whereas this was a more conventional love story, at least for Kaufman it’s more normal than you’d expect. That being said, the story of two people lost and finding hope to be short-lived is such a tragic and subtly dark tale which I like a lot.

David Thewlis voices Michael in such a British way, being klutzy yet smart in what he knows and how he approaches the vastly different Lisa. It’s pretty much the perfect voice for this puppet. Jennifer Jason Leigh brings innocent comic timing to her worrisome role as Lisa, which bounces off Michael Stone greatly. She’s shy, naive, goofy and comes alive thanks to Leigh’s magical vocals. Tom Noonan who voices everyone else, male or female brings a great one-tone level to his performance that makes all other characters spookily bland and unremarkable in the eyes of Michael.

It’s a very original animation that is crafted masterfully from the puppetry to the written word. Kaufman strikes again, making love a haunting special backdrop to despair into.

8.5/10

 

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The Theory of Everything (2015)

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I love this time of year, new beginnings and resolutions may be some people’s great outlooks but I happily accept the influx of heavyweight movies lining up for award ceremony recognition. This is one of those movies. A biopic of one of the most famous male icons is developed through touching and beautiful storytelling led by two tour de force performances.

This film journeys from 60’s Cambridge to detail the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and literary student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). It tells of their growing love and togetherness, strongly shown as Hawking is diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease leaving him declining in abilities and putting Jane front and centre as strong caring wife and mother as Stephen continues with his scientific theories.

By far this is the sentimental piece of the possible nomination crowd, the romantic biographical stance feels like the ’12 Years A Slave’ type and so that bodes well for this James Marsh directed story. On the whole, the romance is never sickly and forced, at least shared with Stephen and Jane it’s developed fantastically. The relationship feels so real and chemistry between the two actors is precise and authentic that you honestly believe you’re watching people and not stars doing their job.

If you want to see an emotional tale that not only feels but looks beautiful then this is the one for you. Cambridge couldn’t be more of a perfect English setting to backdrop the coming together of this strong willed minds and Benoit Delhomme captures the posh stunning landscape of the area in a great way that compliments the tone of the film really well. In general this film is softly felt, the look is not glowing but kind of rounded in the edges, making that romantic side of things more pronounced and most of the time this works to its benefit.

There’s creative and lovely imagery to be found in relations of subject and character. As Stephen begins his thoughts on black holes and the start of life, milk in his coffee begins to dance reflecting the vision of rolling black holes, once again as he’s weaker and relying on Jane to help him pull a jumper on his determined character makes him see a light-bulb moment that aids his theory. This is shown through the fireplace manifesting as swirling stars and burning orange mirroring space and the spark setting off in Stephen’s mind. The end cycling back through past events and stopping back on the young Jane and Stephen is also a wonderful moment in helping us relate to Hawking’s poetic yet scientific comment on there being no boundaries in life.

It has a good dose of humour that stops the film from being as overbearingly sentimental as it may otherwise have been. The smart and witty remarks from Stephen are brilliant and the way his disability is spoken of is funny, not taking the mick but lovingly poking fun at a man who can clearly take it. This humourous shine distracts just enough from the clear audible shoving of music to try and make you well up.

I think the main problem the film has are in a few certain moments where it pushes you to feel a specific way. Flaws laying in wishy washy manipulation aren’t to be overlooked and perhaps without the rising orchestral score being ever present, the emotion wouldn’t be as strong and tears wouldn’t be shed. The Wagner show for instance is a tad too dramatically done to but some backing to Stephen’s predicament, so too in a stained glass window magically glowing with sunlight as two characters kiss, it’s a little bit manufactured making it feel like a movie and losing the amazing reality Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne are bringing to the picture.

Eddie Redmayne is in one word – outstanding. There’s no shadow of a doubt that he’ll be nominated and though I haven’t seen all of the other possible Oscar nods for lead actor, I’d agree with him winning. The immersion into this intelligent, funny man and the shocking heartbreaking disease that takes over his and Jane’s lives are so lovingly done, it’s like Stephen Hawking is on screen and not Redmayne. The twitches and crooked movements, the wide smile and the general absorbing presence he exudes make it one of the best male performances I’ve seen in a long time. Felicity Jones should also get nominated as she brings a forceful heroine onto the screens, she’s at first delicate and then tired but strong. It’s clear to see the way she feels from just the look in her eyes, she’s exhausted and needs someone else, Jones polishes the loving yet possibly lost wife with magnificence.

Aside from a handful of twee moments, this is a phenomenal biopic with pristine direction, hair, make up and costume and two magnetic and marvelous lead performances that’s it’s paved the way for 2015 very well indeed.

7.5/10