Michael Stone is a specialist in customer service and is in Cincinnati to give a speech. While there, he meets Lisa, who seems to be a wonderful anomaly in what is his boring, unsatisfied and mid-life crisis life.
As Henry David Thoreau said in "Walden," "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" and that seems to be the case for Michael Stone. It's an irony that he is in Cincinnati to give a speech about good customer service, because Michael does not seem to connect with other human beings and is not a happy man.
In his hotel room alone, he calls his wife and talks to his son and it's clear that none of these people are particularly happy. Later he calls an old girlfriend and meets up with her but that doesn't go well either. Then he meets two women, Emily and Lisa, who are customer service reps in Cincinnati to hear his speech. They are both in awe of Michael and when he invites them downstairs for a drink, they get a bit drunk and Lisa ends up in Michael's room where they have sex.
Up until he meets Lisa, everyone sounds the same to Michael, literally (all of the voices are provided by one actor - Tom Noonan). When Michael hears Lisa's voice he is lifted out of his funk, because Lisa's voice is different. That's because it's Jennifer Jason Leigh's voice. Michael sees Lisa as an anomaly in a dreary life and dubs her "Anomalisa." He thinks she can save him. But we all know how that kind of thing goes, right?
The characters are animated puppets and nothing was done to hide the puppet-like structure of the faces which all looked like the same mask. And with one person's voice used for all of the characters, except Michael and Lisa, we are thrust into Michael's life where he makes no connections, where everyone looks and sounds the same, living life like a puppet.
There is an irony in Michael's specialty - customer service - where he exhorts people to treat everyone as individuals, to smile and to realize everyone needs love. He should have added, "even though inside we don't really feel that way." So much for customer service.
This is a three-hander with David Thewlis providing the voice of Michael, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa and Tom Noonan as everyone else, male, female, young and old. It's a very effective, though initially startling, effect that illustrates how swept up into the faceless crowd our lives can get.
We are also reminded that animation can do things live actors sometimes can't, though these days almost anything goes in the movies. But animated characters in full-frontal nudity, indulging in oral sex and doing the deed right in front of us can be unsettling, so don't mistake this for a cartoon and take the kids.
I have always been a big fan of Thewlis, whose quirky looks have starred in many films from "Naked" to "The Big Lebowski" to the "Harry Potter" films. His lovely English accent provides a nice counterpoint to Noonan's rather monotonous and actually ominous voice playing all of the other characters. Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose movie career was soaring in the mid-90's and then seemed to sputter out to smaller roles and television, has had a bit of a rebirth in recent years with her Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for "The Hateful Eight" and now a starring role in this, even if it is only her voice.
Written by Charlie Kaufman who also gave us "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" among others (he also co-directed with Duke Johnson), this is decidedly an adult animated feature film with adult themes. It's the first R-rated animated film to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category.
Rosy the Reviewer says...with its effective stop-motion animation and existential message, this unusual film is worthy of its Oscar nomination in the Best Animated Feature category.
***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
Now Out on DVD
The New Girlfriend (2014)
Claire and Laura have been best friends since childhood. But when Laura dies, Claire discovers her secret.
Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) swore BFF-dom at an early age, even sealing the deal in blood. They grew up together, got married together, Laura to David (Roman Duris) and Claire to Gilles (a very handsome Raphael Personnaz) and Laura had a little girl, Lucie. But then Laura dies, leaving David alone to care for the baby and Claire, bereft at losing her best friend and confidante.
Claire, as Lucie's godmother, vows to help David raise Lucie. One day when she arrives at David's house to help with the baby, she finds David rocking her... dressed in a wig and one of Laura's dresses.
Thus the secret at the heart of this movie is revealed - that Laura's husband has the desire to dress as a woman. At first Claire is shocked, but as David explains, it is not a sexual thing and he is not gay. When he was married to Laura he was able to suppress the urge, but since her death it had come back. He also tells Claire that he believes Lucie needs the comfort of a feminine presence.
David confides in Claire that when he dressed Laura in her wedding dress for her funeral, his true feelings of wanting to live as a woman came out and that he liked to dress as a woman. After her initial shock, Claire is at first curious about David and helps David transform into "Virginia," and "she" becomes Claire's new best girlfriend, which reminded me of Gerda, Einar's wife in "The Danish Girl," who instigated her husband to dress as a woman until she realized he wanted to live as a woman.
The two go off on a weekend together and David is dressed as Virginia, his alter ego, and he revels in his new role. But it becomes clear that Claire has some feelings she did not expect, feelings that she may have harbored for Laura all along. Likewise, it seems that David wants to become Laura. As David/Virginia becomes more feminine, Claire, who is usually more shy and reticent, dresses and acts in a more masculine manner.
Claire has conflicted feelings about David and pulls away, telling David he is sick and breaks her ties with him. But she eventually tells David she misses Virginia and they embark on an affair, but you know something has to happen. A near tragedy intervenes.
Though similar in theme to "The Danish Girl," this film takes on the subject matter with more humor and lightness. There is a funny scene where Claire waxes David/Virginia and also David's attempts to "hide" Virginia. A guest unexpectedly arrives when David is Virginia and he quickly removes his make-up, forgetting his lipstick.
The couples live in gorgeous upper-middle class neighborhoods, which curiously, don't look the least bit French, but rather like American suburbs suggesting this certainly is not something that would just happen in France. The film is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Pascal Marti and has the look and feel of a Todd Haynes film where the beautiful images belie the secrets that lie behind their middle class facades. There is an operatic score throughout that foreshadows the climactic events to come.
Duris is a fixture in French films. He has one of those faces that is unforgettable. He is totally believable here. Demoustier channels a young Meryl Streep and has a luminous quality that is utterly charming, though her character is maddening..
This is a timely film in light of Caitlyn Jenner, "The Danish Girl" and Todd Haynes' latest film "Carol," the many discussions around transgender issues and sexual identity. It's interesting that when Claire tells her husband about David, she can't bring herself to tell him that he cross-dresses. She tells him he is homosexual as if it is more shocking to tell her husband that David wants to dress as a woman than that he was homosexual. However, David is not homosexual. He loves women and so, apparently, does Claire.
Directed by Francois Ozon (who also adapted the screenplay from a Ruth Rendell story) this is a study in the complex issues surrounding sexual identity and avoids the usual stereotypes. It's never clear whether or not David equates wearing women's clothes as a sexual thing or that he is actually transgender. Likewise, where Claire is sexually remains ambiguous, which makes the film all the more intriguing and real.
Rosy the Reviewer says...I really liked this film and if you liked "The Danish Girl" or you are a fan of Todd Haynes' films, you will too.
(In French with English subtitles)
Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a young Norwegian woman in her thirties, is newly blind and confined to her apartment where she has an active imagination - or is it her imagination?
Ingrid's husband, Morten (Henrik Raphaelsen), goes to work and she is alone in their apartment, afraid to leave. What must that be like to have the whole day ahead all alone and to be blind? The slow pace of the film reflects that. Sounds are magnified, doors shutting, muffled voices from outside but the film also reflects the fear one might experience being alone and blind. You might imagine all kinds of thing such as your husband not really being at work but being in the apartment watching you.
Ingrid's voiceover tells us that she has not always been blind but that it is becoming harder and harder for her to remember what things looked like when she could see. Though she is alone during the day, she goes about her day, making coffee and cleaning up. But she is also writing a book.
The camera uses close-ups on everything: hair, hands, eyes, all in a cruel irony underlining the fact that Ingrid is blind and not only can no longer see details but sees nothing. The film is beautiful to look at, again an irony in a film about blindness.
Then in counterpoint to Ingrid, Einar (Marius Kolbenstvetd) appears. Einar is a perv. He is addicted to Internet porn and peeping on the woman whose apartment window is across from his. There is a bit of "Rear Window" here. We realize that he is watching Elin (Vera Vitali), a divorced woman from Sweden who is alone on the weekends when her son is with his Dad.
Einar starts stalking Elin. Einer also runs into Ingrid's husband. They are old school mates but it becomes clear that Einar was not popular but the two reconnect over movies. And then to add to the complications, Ingrid's husband, Morten, uses the computer to chat with women and one of those women is Elin.
Einar is watching Elin who is talking to Morten who is married to Ingrid.
Then Elin goes spontaneously blind...and you say, WHAAAT??
This is one of those films with seemingly unrelated characters whose lives collide but then you wonder -- hey, what's going on here? Is all of this in Ingrid's imagination? Is this the book she is writing?
Eventually we realize that Ingrid is writing a novel and not everything we see is to be believed. Elin and Einar are figments of Ingrid's imagination (which is what happens when you are left alone for long periods of time). Not sure about Ingrid's husband, but I think she was also making stuff about him too. What I thought at first were continuity issues were part of the story as backdrops to the action shift unexpectedly. These characters, whether real or only in Ingrid's mind, are all at the mercy of her imagination and so are we.
Petersen is a lovely but cold presence, as pale and cool as a Norwegian winter, and her colors when she is on screen are all white and gray.
This is the film debut of director Eskil Vogt, who heretofore has been a screenwriter for Joachim Trier's films.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a strange but compelling study of loneliness and isolation.
(In Norwegian with English subtitles)
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
262 to go!
Have YOU seen this classic film?
The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)
Mr. Neville, a philandering 17th century artist, is hired by Mrs. Herbert to make a series of 12 drawings of her husband's estate, but the contract also includes sexual favors.
Neville (Anthony Higgins) is a draughtsman, but he is also a womanizer. Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) wants Neville to do the drawings of the estate for her husband in order to save her marriage. She offers eight pounds per drawing and room and board, but Neville also requires that she comply with his request for certain "pleasures."
The film soon becomes a murder mystery as Mr. Herbert's body is discovered on the estate and Mr. Neville is accused. It all goes downhill from there.
This followed Janet Suzman's triumph in "Nicholas and Alexandria" by 10 years. And its cheeky style seems to have inspired "Amadeus," which followed two years later. "Amadeus" had the same cynical satiric feel as this one. It's a satire on the wigs, the clothes, the fops, the silliness of the 17th century wealthy class.
Why it's a Must See: "...the narrative confounds rather than clarifies. But there is a sparkling wit and pleasing theatrical playfulness to the film, which made it an unexpected British hit. The grand country estate is exquisitely captured by Curtis Clark's cinematography, while Michael Nyman's music, which uses motifs from Purcell, is a joy. One of the most striking directorial debuts of recent British cinema, [this film] remains Greenaway's most accessible film."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway, if you saw his "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover," you know you are going to see something that pushes the envelope, and yes, this film might be more accessible than that one or some of his others. But even "1001 Movies..." says it "confounds." And it does. So I didn't get this comedy's inclusion in the "1001 Movies" I must see before I die, when other comedies, such as early Peter Seller's films like "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" and The Pink Panther films, are not. I don't get it.
Rosy the Reviewer says...I will be brief. I didn't like it.
***Book of the Week***
The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless (2015)
Chris McCandliss and his death alone in the wilderness of Alaska was made famous in Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild." Here Chris's sister shares her story and what she believes happened to Chris.
Krakauer interviewed Carine when he was writing "Into the Wild." She showed him some letters Chris had written to her and shared stories about her family but asked Krakauer not to use the information in his book. But now Carine wants the truth to be told and to shed light on why Chris went into the Alaskan wilderness.
This book is mostly Carine's memoir about growing up with Chris in an abusive, drunken and dysfunctional family and how that ultimately affected her and her relationships. She shares many stories of their parents' outrageous behavior and her father's "other family," much of what was glossed over in Krakauer's book. Carine believes that the abuse and lack of connection to his parents were the reasons Chris went into the wilderness.
"I believe Chris went into the wilderness in search of what was lacking in his childhood: peace, purity, honesty. And he understood there was nowhere better for him to find that than in nature."
My main criticism here is what I have felt reading some books about excessive child abuse and really, really dysfunctional families. The more I get hit over the head with incident after incident, the more it feels unreal. Of course, that's just my feeling and probably has more to do with the writing style here than the veracity of the information.
All in all, though, this book doesn't really answer the question of why Chris went into the Alaskan wilderness and starved to death. We will never know.
Rosy the Reviewer says...This could be a good accompaniment to "Into the Wild," but does not in any way replace that remarkable book.
That's it for this week!
Thanks for Reading!
See you Tuesday for
"Interview with a Librarian"
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