Thursday, 31 December 2015

Anomalisa (2015)

Tom:
Anomalisa, 2015, USA
Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Tom Noonan


"They're all one person and they love me. Everyone is one person but you and me. You're the only other person in the world."


The two most humane and moving films that I have seen in 2015 featured no actual human beings on screen. Both don hertzfeldt's  'World of Tomorrow' and Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' prove that genuine human emotions transcend physical capabilities.

For a little while, it seemed like Charlie Kaufman's directorial career would tragically go the way of Charles Laughton. He made a masterpiece back in 2008 with 'Synecdoche, New York', but the film was a bust at the box office, and the film itself was misunderstood, much like Laughton and his film 'Night of the Hunter'. Fortunately Kaufman, this time with co-director Duke Johnson, returns with this stop-motion animated film that has all the heart, all the absurdity and all the brilliance of Kaufman and his previous works.

Personally, Charlie Kaufman is my favorite screenwriter of all time. Whenever a film is released that features his involvement is an event for me, he never ever lets me down, providing incredibly thoughtful and unique screenplays one after another, and that is the case with 'Anomalisa'. The way in which Kaufman can so delicately craft such genuine characters is such a huge inspiration to me and absolute to witness. 'Anomalisa's script features Kaufman's usual brilliance and nuances, while also being a step in a simpler direction. While it has all the same heavy emotions, it isn't as high concept as his other screenplays. In this case, the film itself is high concept, in other cases, Kaufman's screenplay is.

Stop motion animation has always fascinated and amazed me. I can't even the imagine the patience that would go into such a project. 'Anomalisa' is an elite exercise in stop motion, providing absolutely stunning locations and objects as well as incredible articulation from the character models.

The central character of the film is Michael Stone, and he is one of the most wonderfully realized and fleshed out characters that I have encountered all year. Like Kaufman has done many times before, he proposes an intensive character study, on the level of Caden in 'Synechdoche' or Joel in 'Eternal Sunshine' and even "himself" in 'Adaptation'. What sets Michael apart from those characters is that he is literally a piece of clay, yet amazingly his story conveys all the brevity and weight of the aforementioned characters. Michael is a very flawed man who, while a brilliantly smart and relatively successful family man, is deeply depressed by the mundane and lifeless state of his existence. Everyone he encounters spouts similar small-talk and weightless conversations in the same tone (literally, every character that isn't the two leads is voiced by Tom Noonan), whether it be his son, wife, Ex-girlfriend or any random encounter, nobody sets off that spark for him of which he is in desperate search for, until he meets Lisa.
Lisa, voiced wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is an equally enthralling and humane character. She too has her flaws, she is very deprecating and just has a generally low opinion of herself. Leigh is an immensely talented actress and her voice performance in this film brings so much to the character, even more so than Kaufman's screenplay has provided. Tom Noonan is so versatile that he makes his roles all but two characters in the film seem unique and different. It's also essential to have one actor voicing all these characters because it complements Michael's complacency of the sameness of the world.

This is much less a film critique than it is a gushing love letter to 'Anomalisa' and the work of Charlie Kaufman. There are just some filmmakers whose work just relates to you personally and who you can't do much but praise and proclaim your admiration for.

'Anomalisa' is a masterpiece, a big, bold, fresh, unique, messy, lovely, amazing and humane masterpiece. It can make you laugh, it can make you cry and it can make you look at life a little differently. 'Anomalisa' is most definitely an anomaly, it's one of a kind.

*****

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Revenant (2015)

Tom:
The Revenant, 2015, USA
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy & Domhnall Gleeson

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"I ain't afraid to die anymore. I'd done it already."

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a raw, animalistic and courageous performance...that will soon be reduced to a "can I has oscar now" meme by internet culture.

The world depicted in 'The Revenant' is not one of heroes or villains, but one of survivors who have to resort extreme measures to guarantee them another day on earth. Alejandro González Iñárritu throws you into an environment of unflinching violence and viscerally assaults all your sentences with early action sequences that are bloody, grotesque, shocking and give the viewer a strong indication of what is to come.

'The Revenant' re-teams Iñárritu with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, after their Academy Award winning success with 'Birdman' and once again it results in astounding prosperity. Lubezki employees the "single take" style that he has just about perfected at this point, although it is not utilized to the extremity like in 'Birdman', and in doing so he puts us into the wilderness with these characters who are clawing for survival, and thus their plight resonates with us more because we are there with them, in the freezing cold, in the dirt and mud, in the harsh landscape that sees every breath as a victory. The battle scenes are extraordinarily filmed, physical confrontations are devoid of fanfare and polish and instead are bloody, gritty brawls. With his work on this film, Lubezki yet again proves himself as a visionary of his field and might just be on his way to picking up a third consecutive Academy Award.

Then there is a bear attack scene. The scene is as awe-inspiring as it has been made out to be, a truly terrifying and intense sequence that genuinely had me pondering whether or not DiCaprio was sharing the screen with a real life bear, that's how good it is. Possibly the best cinematic moment of 2015.

Iñárritu can be a divisive filmmaker. He wears his heart on his sleeve  and approaches his themes in an unapologetic manner, and that's where he can allienate some of his viewers. If you had a hard time getting invested in his previous films, then you will most likely struggle with 'The Revenant' because it's Iñárritu turned up to 11. Despite featuring one of Hollywood's most bankable stars and potentially being a big box office draw, Iñárritu does alter his style to accommodate cinema-goers, which is great because it keeps his integrity as an artist in tact, but I could also see leading to some disappointment and backlash from some viewers. 

One of my biggest gripes in films is when i feel like themes such as faith and spirituality are disingenuously being inserted into films, and unfortunately I felt this way with this film. Preferably, I would have rather 'The Revenant' keep it a little more simple with it's approach and simply be the tale of a man who will push the limits of his body to gain retribution from those who wronged him, but the film adds a layer of faith and religion that fell flat for me, personally. It's kind of a testament to the filmmaking and craftsmanship that I was so tantalised by, which allowed me to like the film as much as I did, regardless of these issues, which would have been more of a detriment for any less of a film.

In his Golden Globes acceptance speech last year, Michael Keaton said to Alejandro González Iñárritu that "there's not an actor in this room that won't show up for your next gig" and that may be so as his next project attracted the talents of Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo is one of the finest actors of his generation, turning in performance after performance of powerhouse and versatile showings that have seen him become one of cinemas most reliable talents. With 'The Revenant', DiCaprio gives a performance unlike any that he has given before, it's raw, animalistic, gutsy, brave, tenacious and courageous, full of desperation, vitriol, heart and aggression, that will most likely see him win first Academy Award and put that woefully unfunny and redundant meme to bed for good.

Equally as impressive as DiCaprio is Tom Hardy. It's always wonderful to me when an actor I genuinely like plays a character that I detest, their likability usually shines through and you don't hate the character as much as you should because of your sentiments toward the actor playing it, that's not the case with Hardy in this film, I hated this character and I love Hardy for making me do so. Hardy continues his rise as one of the most prominent and rising stars today with another compelling showing. That man is completely unhinged and I mean that in the best way.

'The Revenant' is a triumphant experience of unadulterated cinema. It's a bloody and raw piece of work that is expertly shot, finely crafted and excellently performed.

****

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

Tom:
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, 2015, USA
Director J.J Abrams
Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega & Harrison Ford
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"Luke Skywalker? I though he was a myth."

There has indeed been an awakening, and it isn’t just the titular force, it’s the ‘Star Wars’ series as a whole.  ‘The Force Awakens’ is an exhilarating blend of well executed nostalgia and a fresh perspective that has reinvigorated the series and established a new set of stories and characters that will endear themselves to a brand new generation of fans.

Not having George Lucas in the writer or director role was the best thing for this film, not only because the prequels were critical bombs, but because it allows someone else to take this vast and storied universe and tailor it to his own vision, and that someone is J.J Abrams. I personally don’t have much of a history with Abrams, I never watched ‘Lost’ or his ‘Star Trek’ films, the only thing I’ve actually seen from him is ‘Super 8’, but his work on this film impressed me immensely. Abrams’ style is grounded in realism, a little more so than we are used to seeing in the ‘Star Wars’ films. The action sequences feel grittier, more tenacious, and as a result are more suited to modern audiences. Teamed with some impressive camera work, gives the film a vice-like grip during the action.

In many ways, ‘The Force Awakens’ resembles ‘A New Hope’ in the same way that ‘Creed’ resembled ‘Rocky’, it’s almost like a loose-remake of its original predecessor. ‘The Force Awakens’ hits many of the same notes as Lucas’ classic and even sees the new cast members take on the role similar to those of the characters from original, like Finn being like Luke Skywalker, Ray being like Leia, and Kylo Ren obviously resembling Darth Vader. And just like with ‘Creed’, this film manages to feel fresh regardless of its similarities.

‘The Force Awakens’ genuinely feels like a true successor to the original trilogy, even more so than Lucas’ prequel trilogy did. Abrams is clearly a lifelong fan of the films and does his best to appease fans like him with plenty of odes and references to the classic trilogy and, if you’re anything like me, will make you smile every time you notice them. The returning characters are handled with grace and respect and very much the same characters we fell in love with the first time around. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is still the charismatic, brash smuggler that made him one of cinemas most entertaining characters. Carrie Fisher is still the brave, strong-minded Leia, and Chewbacca is still as loveable as ever.

I was very pleased with the new cast members, all of them do an excellent job and provide a cast full of watchable and endearing characters, which was a trait of the original trilogy and absent in the prequels. Daisy Rildey is a wonderful heroine, John Boyega is a really awesome hero (and has great comedic timing), Oscar Isaac continues to become one of the best actors out there, Domnhall Gleeson shows a darkside that we had previously yet to see, Max Von Sydow adds gravitas and class to anything that he is apart of, and Adam Driver is an interesting villain, who is very threatening and intimidating but is equally tortured and flawed, I’m really looking forward to seeing Kylo Ren’s character progression in the following films.

This is a wonderful first chapter to a new story that had me eagerly anticipating the next installment as soon as the credits began to roll.

This is the Star Wars films that the prequels wished they were. Believe the hype, ‘Star Wars’ is back!

"The Force, it's calling to you. Just let it in."

****