If it wasn’t for the award season movies that are still opening or lingering around, this would be a great week in movies to stay home.
Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
The week’s saving grace is “Anomalisa,” a weird and trippy film from the mind of writer Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). Having started life as a radio play, this intricately detailed stop-motion animation tells the story of a couple of days in the life of Michael Stone, a terribly bored customer service consultant.
Billed as a story about the crippling mundanity of life, we watch as Michael flies into Cincinnati, takes a cab ride to his hotel, and checks in – all with the numbing detail and banal conversation that frequent travelers, especially those who travel alone on occasion, will recognize. The hotel set alone is rendered in exquisite detail and could be any of thousands of generic hotel rooms nationwide.
Michael and all of the characters in the film are animated using 3D printed faces, made in two parts, such that the upper and lower halves of the face are separate. It’s an appearance that takes a little getting used to but which allows for enormous numbers of facial expressions and combinations of parts and the outcome is quite remarkable.
But the story, featuring these odd little puppets, becomes amazingly human as Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) interacts with the characters around him, all but one of which are voiced by a single actor (Tom Noonan) in a manner that establishes how ordinary and repetitive the entire world seems to him. Nothing and nobody stands out. Until he finds Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is unique and different and captures his attention immediately.
Rather than seeming to be about the mundanity of a routine life, or a strange take on the so called Fregoli Delusion (which is referenced in the film in the name of the hotel Michael stays in), “Anomalisa” felt to me like a visual essay on the sensation of falling in love, when suddenly only one voice and face matters in a crowd, to the exclusion of all others, however short-lived that sensation might be.
It’s an odd film to watch, and the first R-rated animated film (complete with puppet nudity and an awkward sex scene) to be nominated for an Academy Award. It may very well be another film that’s more interesting to talk about than it is enjoyable to watch. But it certainly stands out in what’s otherwise a pretty lackluster week of January openings here in Sacramento.
“Dirty Grandpa” is being widely panned as crass and beneath the talent of co-star Robert De Niro, who has taken on the appearance of an actor who never says no to a role (whether that’s true or not). I’ve also seen it described as completely lacking in humor – but I watched it with a preview audience that laughed so hard and loudly during much of the film’s first half, that I missed a significant amount of the dialog. The bottom line is that it’s the latest R-rated comedy that tries to push the boundaries of taste and, for example, if you’ve ever wanted to watch a naked De Niro masturbating in a recliner, this is your chance. Similarly, if watching Zac Efron wearing nothing but a strategically placed small stuffed animal is your idea of a good time, this film’s for you. De Niro plays Efron’s widowed grandfather who drags him off on a trip to Florida on the day after his wife’s funeral. The road trip rapidly descends into debauchery, although in practice the grandfather is actually trying to impart a significant life lesson to his grandson. It’s clearly not a film for everyone, and if the (fairly accurate) trailer doesn’t make you laugh or want to see it, don’t go.
“The 5th Wave” is the newest film adaptation of a young adult novel and, given that there aren’t any vampires or werewolves involved and there’s no already post-apocalyptic landscape to navigate, it pretty much has to be a film about an alien invasion. It’s essentially “Red Dawn” only with aliens instead of communists. But these aren’t cool looking aliens, these are low rent aliens who simply inhabit human hosts while they try to wipe out the remainder of the species and take over the planet. All of which misses the true point of the film, which seems to be to showcase Chloë Grace Moretz’s simply fabulous hair. Truly her hair is the real star of the film and never fails to look radiant. In a world where all power and water supplies are lost, it never once looks dirty or remotely out of place, even during a scene in which she’s supposedly been lying in a bed for a week unconscious hooked to an IV. In another scene, her almost equally fabulous makeup gets covered as she rubs dirt on her face – but the dirt looks more like a slightly too dark foundation and by about a scene or two later she’s back to looking like she’s running through a perfectly coiffed fashion magazine cover shoot. This might very well be the most well produced, action oriented shampoo commercial ever made and I would change brands in an instant if we were ever told what truly phenomenal product can outlast the ravages of the end of civilization as we know it. There are some other people around, guns, explosions, the aforementioned aliens, and general devastation, but mostly just those truly gorgeous flowing locks of absolutely pristine hair in repetitive and extreme closeup. I can’t wait for the sequel in which her luscious locks begin to fight back against the invading hordes of less follically gifted alien pod people.
Also opening in limited release is “Caged No More,” a very low budget and extremely independent film which is intended to put a spotlight on the horrors of modern day human trafficking. Sadly it also puts a spotlight on very low budget and extremely independent filmmaking and might have been better distributed directly to the faith groups it’s so clearly targeted at, as it doesn’t have anything approaching a theatrical presence. Somewhat like a micro-funded version of “Taken,” it retells a true story of the attempt to rescue two teenage girls sold by their own father into the brothels of Greece. I was the fourth and last audience member of an opening night screening I attended and one of only two who lasted past the midpoint of the film. It’s hard to fault a film project with such noble intentions, but this plays like a dramatized 90 minute public service announcement that belongs in community centers and church halls.