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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Scarlett Johansson

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From my Acting Brick Road series, it’s time for the assassin Avenger and The Island escapee to step up to the plate and see what I believe her best, worst and favourite movie roles are. Scarlett Johansson….come on down –

BEST PERFORMANCE: I haven’t yet seen ‘Under the Skin’ but want to see it to view how different she can be as an actress, as it does look like a unique odd yet brilliant film. Aside from this unseen possible gem, it comes down to either ‘Lost in Translation‘ or ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ as her peak performances. I am slightly edging for the latter as a more interesting role for her, where she portrays Griet with subtlety and beauty and vulnerability, that you can believe she immerses herself into the role of this muse.

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NOT SO BEST PERFORMANCE: ‘The Perfect Score’ just isn’t very good (my review of that here) and she doesn’t do anything of note in it to at least forget that the film isn’t very good. It’s a cliched sex symbol-forbidden fruit character that does nothing to try and rid stereotypes and in general the film could have been so much more if they tried a little harder with the script. Shame that Scarlett has this in her filmography.

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FAMILY FRIENDLY: The superhero franchises are big for all ages now so her contract as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff is an appearance large enough to get her seen by many. She has also been in ‘Home Alone 3’ in the early stages of her career and since then has voiced for ‘The Spongebob Squarepants Movie’, played a college grad in ‘The Nanny Diaries’, shown a family side nature in the endearing warm movie ‘We Bought a Zoo’ and of course her role as Romanoff will continue with ‘Avengers 2’ coming next year!

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MATURE ROLE: She’s busty and seducing in ‘The Spirit’, ‘Match Point’ is also filled with desire and brooding danger but I think the most adult orientated movie she’s shown up in is ‘Don Jon’. The entire movie, even with the heart of relationships attached, is about obsession and addiction to porn, sex and the rituals of Gordon Levitt’s main character. Johansson’s Barbara is a feast upon the eyes for the audience and Jon. The movie is smart, funny and assuredly sexy with no let up for younger ages to sit and watch proceedings unfold.

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MY FAVOURITE FILM: I do love ‘The Avengers’ but I will stick with my heart and head and choose ‘The Prestige’ by Christopher Nolan as my favourite film that she has been in. It’s wise and stylish with an edge and suspenseful air to the events to keep the intrigue at a fine level. Her hiring as an aide to Jackman is nice and works well until the rivalry of him and Bale interferes with her character and boils over too. It’s a great thriller like narrative with twisting turning ideas and a setting to include great details to gift the movie a distinctive look.

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AWAY FROM THE BIG SCREEN: She has appeared as herself in an episode of ‘Entourage’, she has turned up for SNL episodes and has done voice work for ‘Robot Chicken’, aside from these she is more a film persona than switching a lot between TV and the big screen. She has shown up on Broadway though and played in ‘A View from the Bridge’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’.

She’s appeared in a Justin Timberlake music video and showcased her knack for singing in ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Her’ but here she is away from film in her own music video for her own song, Falling Down. A haunting style tone buzzes around this soft pop song.

Here she is having great fun with Samuel L Jackson for a skit with Little Ant and Little Dec on the British Saturday night show ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’, she plants a cheeky kiss on one of the lucky lads, being just all around nice and dealing with a question about being hot!

See more brief analysis’ of other stars in the movies over on my Acting Brick Road page. Go on, you know you want to!

 

Lost in Translation (2003)

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Such a beautifully poignant, sweet and phenomenally masterful film that blooms in its nature of gently wallowing in melancholia, in exploring the romantic touches of insomnia and in showcasing the bright lights of Tokyo as a starkly different world to one many are used to.

An American star, Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is away from his family while working for a Whisky company in Tokyo, the complete change in lifestyle in this city brings about insomnia, boredom and his worries of home concerning the lack of love in his marriage. A chance encounter at the hotel bar with Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who is fearing her own marriage is not as strong as it could be, leads to many more bar conversations and outings in the thriving city, where they start to become closer and see their lives leading down a better more interesting path than before.

Sofia Coppola writes and directs with an eye for capturing the disconcerting sights of this Japanese city but balances this culture shock for the main characters with some light comedic strokes and endearing real travellings of the heart. The way in which the language barrier constantly hits makes for laughs as Bob Harris feels the lengthy Japanese is revealing more about his acting than the translator says. It’s this and the sometimes frenzied over eager approaches of Harris’ welcome party that shock him into this strange new place. This is set apart with Charlotte’s view of the city as she sees the more serene side of life taking in temples, monks and gorgeous gardens on her lone sightseeing trips. The dialogue itself is charming and utterly believable as you are willingly made to fall for the likeability factor shared by the two leads. There’s an instant rapport between them and you understand that they just click, their adventures or sometime misadventures make for the endearing journeys of the characters as they progress with not only each other but themselves. Coppola manages to bring comedy into the mix too with the fun problems the two face in this city. There’s the brilliant whisky advertising shoot and advert filming that is on the nose funny. The two of them also seeing through Kelly (Anna Faris) as an annoying up herself actress is comedy that connects them further. It’s a slight comedy that works in the alien like backdrop of a city that the characters and like myself, probably a lot of people haven’t seen in the flesh.

The backing score is lilting and perhaps ethereal at times. It represents the eye opening behaviour of seeing Tokyo with wonder really well. There’s a simple magic quality to the music and it helps us as the audience fall into a spell seeing this energetic new city unfold as the characters explore it. It’s a very romantic sounding soundtrack that works in setting up the mood of this movie. The diegetic sounds of house jazz in the hotel bar is a constant tool to ground the hotel setting in believable status and subtly introduce a character into the plot without knowing their true importance until later on. The bluesy style takes on the songs help add to the dreamy sense of this place also.

Bill Murray is just marvellous as the often bewildered, tired yet warm Bob. It’s a great role and a greater performance as he becomes kindly fun and childlike when he needs to and then reverts back to that Murray gaze of stoney faced boredom when called for in the story. You can’t help but feel for him as his wife calls leading you to learn there’s no spark left and that she seems happy he’s so far away. Scarlett Johansson is stunning and embracing as the college graduate trying to find herself. There’s a twinkle in her eye yet a vulnerability etched across her face now and then and it makes for a deeper character and performance. The two of them together are just….wow. That’s honestly how I’ll sell it as they just fit together. The young and the old, the fun and the wise, they help each other and enjoy each others company and it’s so enjoyable watching them both.

There’s only the small niggle of the film taking a while to find itself which is ironic but there is a slow start before anything interesting really gets the attention and keeps hold of it, but once Johansson and Murray meet and start talking the film begins its near mint condition style.

A witty, smart and lovely film that delves into the lost tracks of lives and the closer to the heart loneliness felt by the characters, represented by the bigger template of Tokyo city. A gem of a film with a gem of an ending that feels right, leaving you wanting an answer that you also don’t want as it could spoil the pleasure and power of the story.

8.5/10