Kaufman’s Anomalisa

Anomalisa - poster

Critics are generally bananas for this film.  Peter Keough of The Boston Globe does a nice job describing it:

Co-directed and written by Charlie Kaufman, “Anomalisa” is animated in a hyper-realistic, oddly off, stop-motion style that produces an uncanny effect similar to that in Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped “Waking Life” (2001)….

But that’s not why “Anomalisa” is so strange. It takes a few minutes to catch on, and it would be indiscrete to specify what it is, but once you figure out what’s really strange about it you have entered the solipsistic prison of a tormented mind.

Anomalisa - text blockHe goes on to give the film his highest rating, and proclaims it best of 2015.  I was less enthusiastic.  My knock against Anomalisa is that it executed a singular, potent idea perfectly suited to a short film, but when drawn out to feature length wears a bit thin.

Those who are familiar with the masterwork Being John Malkovich will recognize its themes of identity and the state of being human.  The difference there was that collaborating with Spike Jonze, Kaufman’s story constantly evolved.  Anomalisa, by contrast, is monotonous.  Even with my reservations, I did find Anomalisa to be a captivating little picture with lasting impact.  7/10

Comparison Notes: See “Film as Soufflé

The Best and Mostly Worst of 2015

2015 was a terrible year for movies.  There was a dearth not only of good, mainstream Oscar contenders (“big” movies) but also of quality indies.  Making this list, however, I am a little surprised no 7/10-rated film made the top ten.  So maybe it wasn’t the worst year ever.  But the whole year felt weird and “off.”  I considered highlighting a “TOP FIVE” instead of the normal top ten, because it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about the better movies this year.

It’s so bad this year that the Academy agrees with me.  Although, naturally, they missed the two best pictures of the year, they’ve only nominated eight for the top prize — and two of them are Mad Max and The Martian!  Now that’s a good one.  They’re really scraping the bottom there.

As established last year, each movie is linked to the original post; an asterisk denotes a film seen via VOD.

Furious 7 — 1/10 and Honours for Worst Movie of the Year.

Sicario — 1/10.  A close runner-up for Worst of the Year

The Martian — 2/10

Unfriended — 3/10Mr Holmes - poster

Creed — 3/10

Phoenix — 4/10

About Elly — 4/10

Mr. Holmes — 4/10

Paper Towns — 4/10

Brooklyn — 4/10

Mission: Impossible V — 4/10

The New Girlfriend — 4/10

Hot Girls Wanted* — 5/10

While We’re Young*– 5/10

It Follows — 5/10

Ich Seh Ich Seh (Goodnight Mommy) — 5/10.  Tragic how this film was resolved.  Otherwise such a powerful picture.

Tangerine - posterWhat We Do in the Shadows — 6/10

Crimson Peak — 6/10

Star Wars VII — 6/10

The Big Short — 6/10

Maps to the Stars — 6/10

Black Mass — 6/10

The Visit — 6/10

Leviathan — 6/10

Dope - movie poster vertEverest movie posterMad Max: Fury Road — 6/10

The Wolfpack* — 7/10

Straight Outta Compton — 7/10

An Honest Liar* — 7/10

Spy — 7/10

Tangerine — 7/10

Trainwreck — 7/10

Best of Enemies — 7/10

Meru — 7/10

Amy - movie posterThe Diary of a Teenage Girl - posterDope — 7/10

Everest — 7/10.  Rating applies to 3D theatrical showing.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl — 7/10

Amy — 7/10

Love & Mercy — 7/10.  This movie had problems, but I find these months later it still resonates with me.

Irrational Man — 7/10

Carol — 8/10

== TOP TEN ==

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

10. The Overnight — 8/10

9. I’ll See You in My Dreams — 8/10

8. Spotlight — 8/10

7. The Hateful Eight — 8/10

6. The Gift — 8/10

5. Relates Salvajes (Wild Tales) — 8/10.  The most “fun” movie of the year.

4. The Revenant — 8/10

3. Room — 8/10

2. Ex Machina — 9/10

1. The Walk — 9/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year.  A beautiful, inspiring film; make sure to watch on the big screen.

The Revenant: Iñárritu Wins Again

The Revenant - poster

The Revenant is a grand spectacle of filmmaking virtuosity on a scale perhaps never before seen.  With Birdman, Iñárritu set the keystone of his newly developed fluid style.  I wrote that Birdman was:

…a film executed in whirlwind non-stop frenetic fashion that will hold you from start to finish. …But I found the story too monotone, or put another way Birdman has trouble breaking free of its self-imposed Alcatraz.

The Revenant builds on the expertise set forth in Birdman, and adds a stronger story.  Birdman’s enclosed spaces have been blown out and replaced by vast, wide-open, windswept and snow-covered landscapes, and realized by an absolute mastery of the lens and anything put in front of it.  From a moviemaking point of view, The Revenant is pure wonderment.  This is an impressive film.

The Revenant - text blockSomething else I liked was that this is a Western put in stark, brutally realistic terms — a true rarity.  So there is no doubt The Revenant is a great film.  But there were a couple storytelling issues I ran into.  A couple 5-minute days, for example.  I mean, I know it’s winter and the days are short, but they aren’t that short.  Another small problem toward the end nagged me slightly.  And ultimately, the story, with all its applied nuance, is fundamentally a one-dimensional revenge picture, with a pair of characters at the core who could have been more interesting to say the least.

The Revenant will win the Best Picture Oscar, and I don’t have a big problem with that.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Dancing with Wolves, Dead Man, I Spit on Your Grave; Not Recommended: The Grey, True Grit (2010)

VOD Log: Making a Murderer

Making a Murderer - title shot 2

Making a Murderer on Netflix is a magnificently compelling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking series.

SPOILER ALERT!!  Spoilers follow:

Assuming the facts presented in the series are accurate and more or less complete, a logical individual would have to conclude that there is at the very least  solid evidence that reasonable doubt has been established in the case of Steven Avery.  Not one bit of her blood was found anywhere on the Making a Murderer - title screenAvery premises except on that bullet and in the back of her own vehicle — as just one glaring example of the facts pointing toward his innocence.

As far as Brendan Dassey, there is no evidence of his involvement at all.  His conviction was based entirely on his own confused and constantly contradictory and coerced words.  There isn’t even circumstantial evidence against him.

I think the moral of the story is that the legal system is completely broken, unless you’re on the side of prosecution.  Regardless of guilt or innocence.  Not that we didn’t know that already.

[End of Spoilers]

* * *

Watching my first VOD-exclusive TV series has made me rethink TV a bit more.  Now, with one of my favorite filmmakers Jim Jarmusch producing an Amazon exclusive, I may finally have to cave to a Prime subscription.  Ugh.  Well at least I’ll get free shipping.  Which I get anyway with a minimum order.  Then if and when Twin Peaks comes out on Showtime… well another subscription there.

* * *

I am loving “Lazarus” from David Bowie.  He pulled a Johnny Cash / Warren Zevon, recording a final album as his own death knell.  I suppose it’s just the timing, but it seems to fit Making a Murderer perfectly.

Film Brief: The Big Short

The Big Short - poster

The Big Short follows three parties who fail to intersect while chasing the novel idea of shorting the housing market.  It’s good strong material muted, which is to say mishandled, by the maker of Anchorman, and you can see what I thought of the last Anchorman movie.  The director Adam McKay employed a trite ‘wink and a nod,’ talking into the camera shtick which didn’t do the film any favors, a further sign of the filmmaker’s lack of skill in weaving his yarn.

So The Big Short is borderline thumbs-down, but it projected a lively spirit, the performances were well crafted, and it wasn’t boring, so 6/10.

Comparison Notes: Recommended better options: Wall Street, American Psycho, Glengarry Glen Ross; Not Recommended: The Wolf of Wall Street

A Sacred Verse, A Hallowed Creed

Creed - poster smallOr more aptly, A Hollow Creed (get it?).  This movie is almost completely drama-free, and what drama does exist is utterly contrived.  I wasn’t buying any of it, but somehow the performances were endearing enough to prevent me from walking out.

Creed - text block

With The Fighter (David O. Russell’s one good movie), The Karate Kid, The Wrestler and Crazy Heart, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, The Walk, and about 188 dozen other like-minded, much better movies I could list given the motivation, there is zero reason for Creed other than the bucks.  3/10