Jay Roach / Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis CK / Drama / 2016 / 15 / 124mins
What makes a man tick?
For Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) it's screenwriting. He's a genius and proud of his job, earning big bucks and fame. However, as WWII draws to a close, Communist aggression leads to his arrest and exclusion from the big league studios.
Despite his place on the infamous Blacklist, Trumbo signs pseudonymously for King Brothers Studios to churn out B-movie scripts for a living before triumphantly returning to former glory with Spartacus, picking up the odd Oscar here and there. It's strangely evocative of the whole Fury Road 'A-to-B-to-A' sequence, except this time there's Commies and Movies and the ups and downs you come to expect.
Cranston is assured and as confident as ever. His whole embodiment of Trumbo - the accent, the calmly delivered wit, and, ultimately, the emotional weight behind certain scenes - is quite striking and unequivocally human, a deserved Oscar nom. Mirren is devilishly cunning and wry as Hedda Hopper but the rest of the cast are left floundering.
The deeper problem is that Cranston can't explore his character further. Roach turns an inspiring figure sour with an incoherent script. We flit between bookmarks in the life of Trumbo, major incidents that dog his family and his career, but there's an underlying paranoia that should be haunting every frame: the fear of McCarthyism, the fear that someone, anyone, your neighbour or your Mom, could hightail you to court and have you arrested for nothing more than an (often assumed) political leaning.
To not utilise the context of this grossly underfilmed era is treason - we have been robbed of a potentially terrifying psychological thriller. Worse yet, we have been robbed of a convincing character study. The actors can't express themselves to a high standard, simplicity glosses the film, and it becomes gallingly long.
Cranston's supposed vehicle to Oscardom is a polished but plain period drama, visually flat and lacking a cutting edge.
Doesn't do Trumbo's sharp wit justice.
Film as a Film - 2 / Target Audience - 2 / General Audience - 2
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson / David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan / Animation, Drama / 2016 / 15 / 90mins
LIFE IS MUNDANE, BORING, REPETITIVE.
And so it goes... at least, that's what writer Charlie Kaufman believes.
At its core, Anomalisa wrestles with one question: what it means to be human. David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, a man at odds with his life, who comes across someone remarkable one night at a hotel in Cincinnati: Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman who sounds... different. Everyone apart from Thewlis and Jason Leigh is voiced by Tom Noonan, creating the idea that everyone is 'the same'.
Quite interesting, then, that Kaufman turned to renowned stop-motion animator Duke Johnson to emphasise the nature of existence. It's a clever ploy. A play on religion? Animator and the animated? God vs Filmmaker? It's the edge of theory that Kaufman typically turns to in his work. There are two distinct moments that consciously reveal the animatronic nature of the characters. During one Michael's lower face falls off entirely. It's deliberate, a conscious effort to stylistically visualise our grappling with ourselves. Neat stuff.
Anomalisa has achieved widespread acclaim. Whilst I admit I'm pleased that the public are taking the time to tackle an artsy film, I get the feeling many simply sympathise with the content. Put simply, it's a bland, depressing film that gets nowhere. So what if that's a message in itself, it still leaves the audience hanging. Memento leaves the audience with countless questions and zero answers, but at least its core plot finishes to some degree. There is at least one complete circle. Anomalisa offers a window to a depressed man's life and his failings. He does things that make him an arsehole, like have an affair; so, where do we go with this? Are we all intrinsically arseholes?
I was severely let down by this film. Fuck you if you think I don't get it - I do - but this film opens a can of worms. I can't give a film a good rating for two philosophical quirks. Michael's not even an anti-hero - he's a straight up arsehole. The questions he asks aren't exactly overwhelming; everyone deals with these 'existential' crises every day. If everyone's dealing with them, it's normal.
Personally let down, but fans will love its animation concept. In every sense an extra-ordinary film.
Film as a Film - 3 / Target Audience - 4 / General Audience - 2