“Anomalisa”: What Film Should Be

I’m a sucker for film. Most of all, I love the opening moments, the dimming of the theater lights, the black of the screen, the slow fade in of sound, the distributor’s logo coming in. paramount-inAll of that magical promise lies ahead…a feeling which lasts maybe five minutes, when the realization sinks in that this is just another wooden story that will go on and on, dull and predictable, films like The Martian and The Revenant torturing viewers with the the same ups and down until – surprise, surprise – our hero triumphs again. Goody.revenantAccoladed films like Carol and Youth moan down a similarly dreary course, a tedium of monotonous reflection and ordeal until everyone, including the audience, runs out of gas.youhtAnd these are supposed to be the worthwhile films of the year, all nominated for the gold statuettes, making me realize that there’s no point in going to the movies.

Ah, but then, out of the dim, arises Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, a film also focused on life’s futility, excessively so, and yet turns out to be a wonder. anomalisa-seamsThe wonder of the film is not in the characters, not the dialogue or the story, nor even the stop-motion animation. Instead it’s in the craft of the moment, the startling realization that all of the secondary characters have the same face and voice, the awkward interactions of sex initiated and carried through, the brief terror elicited when the protagonist picks at the seams in his face, seeming ready to pull it off to reveal…what? anomalisa handThis is why I go to the movies, to find films like Anomalisa, where I forget about my uncomfortable seat, even dreary old time, and am transported, just as promised.

Not surprisingly, Kaufman’s crowd-funded film is not nominated for Best Feature at the Oscar, but instead for Animated Feature, which it will likely lose to Pixar’s Inside Out.inside

Consuming Film: “The Mogul in the Middle”

Tad Friend’s recent New Yorker article The Mogul in the Middle reminds us that movies are like everything in this life: a business. Friend focuses on STX Entertainment founder, Adam Fogelson, who “is not interested in movies where they all talk too much, that Sundance shit of jerking off on the screen.” mementoInstead, Fogelson is celebrated for taking risks on films that larger distribution companies are scared of: “In 2012, If you asked a roomful of people ‘What’s “Ted”?,’ some might have said, ‘A conference’. Four months later, all around the world, a giant portion of people would have said, ‘A movie about a magical bear who comes to life.’ That is an exciting, terrifying, magical truth.” Ted movieFriend goes on to explain that “the six major studios have bet that the future on films that are predicated not on the chancy appeal of individual actors but on “I.P.”—intellectual property, in the form of characters and stories that the audience already knows from books or comics or video games. 29 sequels and reboots came out last year, many of them further illuminations of a comic-book universe. avengersFriend cites one studio head as to claiming,Movies may not have gotten better over the years, but they’ve gotten more satisfying.

Or to put it in laymen’s terms, they have become much bigger and far more dumber, exemplified in recent Oscar nominations for Mad Max, Fury Road and The Martian. Following the logic of these nominations, the 1981 Oscars would have expunged The Elephant Man and Raging Bull for Road Warrior and The Empire Strikes Back. LeiaR2SlaveHumanity, it appears, requires a better marketing department.

“The Martian”: Vacuous in Space

The idea behind Ridley Scott’s The Martian could be intriguing: What if someone were to be stranded alone on a distant planet? maxresdefaultAs unoriginal as the premise is – a sci-fi staple often used countless Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits episodes – it still has the potential of the vast unknown. However that potential is quickly wasted in The Martian as it can never rise above a tedious salute to American ingenuity, what eventually becomes a mind-numbingly extended episode of MacGyver.

The script is an abomination, the Chief of NASA actually saying “…if nothing goes wrong” right before…something goes wrong. THE MARTIANCharacter development is non-existent, and not a single word is invested into the psychology of being abandoned in space, excepting the long zoom-ins of everyone becoming more empathetic. kristen_wiig-folded_hands It’s astounding that $108 million can be dumped into such a meaningless and vacuous project, and then go on to earn close to $600 million; Ridley Scott hoodwinked us again. 6a00d8341bf7f753ef01a5116e071a970c-800wiWhich makes me wonder when his Alien/Blade Runner credentials will finally run out.