Sunday, January 24, 2016


Rated:  R

STARS: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan
DIRECTOR: Charlie Kaufman
GENRE: Animation/Drama/Comedy

There is a scene in Charlie Kaufman's animated film, Anomalisa, where Jennifer Jason Leigh, the voice of Lisa, gives an impromptu acapella rendering of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." First in English. Then in Italian. It should have been nominated for Best Pop Vocal by a Claymation Puppet--but then, how many of those would there be? If you think we're talking unique...and quirky... you're right. Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche, New York) is in familiar territory.

Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), is a renown expert in the field of customer service, flying into Cincinnati to speak at a convention. The people he interacts with attempt to make small talk, but he is not interested. For Michael, everyone else fades into the morass of drab uniformity--so much so that they all speak in the same male voice (that of Tom Noonan ). EVEN THE WOMEN. Michael haltingly tries to break through his boredom--looking up an old girlfriend who lives in the area. They meet for a drink. There are recriminations about the past. It doesn't go well. At his hotel, he runs into a couple of customer service groupies, Lisa and Emily (everyone has their fans). Lisa is the shy one. She thinks she is ugly, but she is not. We can see that she's not, and so can Michael. Lisa is special--an anomaly--the only character in the film who speaks in a normal female voice. (Charlie Kaufman's inventiveness on display.) Michael chooses Lisa over her more gregarious friend, and they end up in his room together. There we are witness to a steamy, realistic sex scene that, had it been live actors rather than puppets, would have qualified as soft-core porn and the film would have been slapped with an NC-17 rating instead of an  "R." ( I can see Howdy Doody sitting in the darkened theater and doing a Pee Wee Herman watching this!)

Michael, a married man,  is falling hard for Lisa (pun intended) and wants to leave his family and take up with her. This is where any further revelation of the plot would be a spoiler.

The insights Kaufman arrives at in the introspective Anomalisa, and the manner in which he arrives at them, brings to mind Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic, The Little Prince. And that is saying something.

There is a scientific principle known as Occam's Razor which, stated plainly, postulates that when there are competing hypotheses, the simplest explanation is usually the best. The simple point of Anomalisa, then, appears to be "familiarity breeds contempt." You may arrive at something else. That's the beauty, and the brilliance of Anomalisa. Multiple viewings may be in order.

Anomalisa garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Something tells me it's going to win.

Grade:  A


All I can say is when Tim and I left the movie theater, two gals still seated in front of us turned and said, "Was that the weirdest film you've ever seen?!" I quickly agreed. Granted, there were moments of total brilliance – the puppet-driven sex scene and the morning after conversation over scrambled eggs. But like those ladies, I left the theater wondering what the hell Charlie Kaufman's message was?

That life ultimately sucks? That there's a soulmate out there for everybody? That we unconsciously hear the same voices in our heads, regardless of age, sex or relationship? Anomalisa definitely makes you think. (And I'm not big on too much cogitating when it comes to movies.)

You know you're in for weirdness when the film begins with a blank black screen and a cacophony of overdubbed voices. This goes on for at least 30 seconds, preparing you for something unusual. Very unusual. On a personal note, whenever I want us to see a movie that Tim doesn't want to see, his stock response is, "I know the ending already." Well, he sure couldn't say that about Anomalisa. In fact, I still don't know what the ending means!

Grade: C +

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Rated:  R

STARS: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck 
DIRECTOR: Alejandro Inarritu
GENRE: Drama/Action-Adventure

The best and most technically impressive scene in The Revenant comes early on when Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Hugh Glass--one of a cadre of 19th century fur trappers out in the woods slaughtering animals for fun and profit--gets mauled by a gigantic CG bear from hell. Not just mauled, but f--ked up to within an inch of his life. Any normal person wouldn't survive. But this is DiCaprio, the star of the film, so we know he's going to pull through. And that's a big flaw in terms of killing any suspense there might have been as to the ultimate outcome of the encounter.   

Glass recovers in achingly protracted fashion, and sets off to find the man--John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy)--who left him out there for dead in the snow. It's a simple tale of survival and revenge--a grisly, bloody, ultra violent tour-de-force from director Alejandro Inarritu, who is shooting for his second Best Picture Oscar in as many years. (Birdman in 2014).  But if non-stop gore isn't your cup of tea and you're looking for something of more depth, I suggest you see Brooklyn instead. 

The Revenant is also nominated in a slew of other categories, including Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio. If there were an Oscar for grimacing, grunting, groaning, spitting up and straining to speak unintelligibly, DiCaprio would certainly deserve it.  If there were an award for physical exertion, he'd deserve that as well. And if there were a Best Performance While Gnawing On Raw Animal Flesh...he would win hands down!  But Best Actor? Not this turn.

The Revenant DOES deserve--and should win--the trophies for Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. Best Picture? My vote still goes to Brooklyn

Oh, and I sat patiently through the entire scroll of credits at the end--nearly as long as a short film in itself--waiting to see the reassuring "no animals were harmed" notation at the end. It didn't appear. Never a good sign. 

Grade: B -


Sometimes, when I see a film, an actor's performance makes me say to myself (or the stranger sitting next to me!), "That actor's gonna win an Oscar!" I felt this way about Tom Hardy in The Revenant. He was as deliciously villainous in his role as Anthony Hopkins was in Silence Of The Lambs. If it had been back in the days of silent movies, I'll bet the audience would've been booing him in every scene. Alas, his competitors in Best Supporting Actor this year (Christian Bale, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Rylance and Sylvestor Stallone) will probably prevent Tom Hardy from winning. But he definitely deserves the award.

As for The Revenant? A brilliant film deserving of the 12 Oscar nominations it received. Grunting and mumbling aside, Leo's performance in this 156-minute film is certainly Oscar-worthy. If for nothing else, his physical stamina. I personally liked the fact that it took so long—in cinematic terms—for him to recover. And in that time, we were treated to some of the most visually stunning nature photography I've ever seen. It's nearly impossible to believe that this same director filmed Birdman -- which took place largely in dressing rooms and on stage.

I can't heap enough praise on this movie. And when DiCaprio accepted his win at The Golden Globes ceremony, I was gratified to hear him thank all the Native Americans that helped make the film possible. I'd like to come up with a criticism, no matter how minor, but I'm finding it difficult to do. Perhaps the title could have been less obscure. A friend told me it meant "someone who seeks revenge." But when I looked it up, the definition read: "a person who has returned, especially from the dead." Either definition works. But obscure movie titles aren't my thing.

Grade: A