By Ray Pride
Michael is a weary middle-aged man, a motivation expert who flies overnight to Cincinnati to address a customer service convocation, where the attendees know him for his most recent book, “How May I Help You Help Them?” Charged moments come from the seemingly commonplace: A perfunctory call to his wife back in Los Angeles, an impulsive call to an ex and an ill-advised drink, meeting a sweet, younger, seemingly uncomplicated younger woman, a baked-goods customer-service rep named Lisa (a tenderly winsome Jennifer Jason Leigh) who’s admired him from afar. Simple, except that “Anomalisa” is stop-motion animation, turned to the very adult means of fleshing out a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman that began as a staged “radio play” for three voices. The combination of simplicity and intricacy make the strange, thrilling “Anomalisa” discernibly a Charlie Kaufman object, as refined and diamond-dense as his directorial debut, “Synecdoche, New York” was sprawling. We talked about the movie a few weeks ago, along with his co-director and animator Duke Johnson.
The group I saw the movie with was ecstatic afterward. How exuberant and joyous have people been talking to you about the movie?
Kaufman: Many people weep. Read the rest of this entry »
The streamlined storytelling of Pixar’s “Inside Out,” directed by Pete Docter (“Up”), startles for many reasons, but most for the ease with which it executes its improbable premise—“mind workers,” or cartoon figures inside the head of eleven-year-old Riley, and how they define her emotional state—and makes it wholly accessible and very, very funny. Reportedly informed by extensive research with scientists in multiple fields, “Inside Out” is provocative about how emotions and memories drive the other characters as well. The quick glimpses inside Riley’s mother and father’s minds are terrific, too, and the device culminates in one of the most hilarious, logical, inspired, nearly perfect final scenes ever. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomm Moore’s deliciously illustrated “Song of the Sea” is his Oscar-nominated follow-up to “The Secret of Kells,” nominated in 2009. Circling the Irish legend of the Selkies, mythical creatures that are seals in the sea but human once onshore, Moore finds further fodder in Celtic magic, with lush, lovely watercolor animation that worships the dance of light (and Studio Ghibli) to hold the eye even as characterization and storytelling become cute. Read the rest of this entry »
If there’s any question about where Walt Disney Studios sees its future, gander at the family portrait in the mansion home of earnest slacker-fanboy Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller) about halfway through “Big Hero 6” (named for the merchandise-friendly superhero group loosely based on a minor Marvel Comics team). In one of those wink-wink gags that makes chaperones think they’re seeing a more sophisticated cartoon (a technique perfected at Disney subsidiary Pixar, whose majordomo John Lasseter exec produces here, as with all current Disney-branded animation), Fred’s dad is none other than Marvel Comics (another Disney subsidiary) godfather Stan Lee. Not old Walt, the long-deceased studio founder who wired Mickey Mouse, Bambi and Snow White into our communal consciousness. Message to incubating fanboys everywhere? Disney’s world is Stan Lee’s going forward. (And in case the portrait joke is too subtle, there’s an amusing post-credits sequence that most of my Saturday morning screening audience missed, with Stan the Man in the animated “flesh.”)
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Bear meets mouse in the lovely, charming “Ernest & Celestine,” based on the series of popular children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent. Oscar-nominated for best animated feature last year. A French-Belgian co-production, “E&C”’s animation works with the liquescent beauty of watercolor painting while keeping the amiable mismatched-pal animal ruckus in forward motion. Bears live aboveground and mice in their own subterranean city, each species going about everyday tasks as if they were larger or smaller humans. As directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (“A Town Called Panic”) and Benjamin Renner and adapted by novelist Daniel Pennac, the animals’ small world breathes with the kind of detail its ideal audience—clever tots—live in in their own fantasy world. Read the rest of this entry »
(Kaze tachinu) “Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” Possibly the last film by seventy-three-year-old Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki, the sober, regret-steeped “The Wind Rises” is a period drama, a dreamily romantic recounting of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aviation engineer who designed the Zero fighter, the plane that Japan thought would win them World War II, and was used for kamikaze attacks and at Pearl Harbor. It’s an honorable treatment of a subject that drew some fervent criticism early in the awards season. Fire and firestorm, wind and clouds and windstorms, sky and planes, are all gorgeously rendered in the fine line of Miyazaki’s virtuoso hand-drawn style. (The sound design, as always, is as gorgeous as the images.) The savor that remains after is the unique look and feel of Miyazaki’s work, but also the pungency of the portrait of the dreamer who sees only his dream, and not always the presages of the world falling down around him. Read the rest of this entry »
“Smowwwwg.” “Smowwwwg.” Okay. “Smowwwwg” it is. The once-diverse career of fifty-two-year-old New Zealand filmmaker-turned-fantasy impresario Sir Peter Jackson is now given over to the seeming never-to-end, near-shapeless multiple entries in his ongoing Tolkien sagas. I haven’t added up the running time of the entire long march, but as with the first of three “Hobbit” films drawn from the 320-or-so pages of the novel about a small forest creature who only wants to find his way home, the mind finds ample space to wander. Never a fantasy fan, I’m most intoxicated by the scale of Sir Peter’s fiscal accomplishment. (As well by the fact that his Hitchcock-like cameo in “Smowwwwg” takes up about four seconds of the film’s first ten seconds.) All glory to New Zealand! Without even taking a quick swoon at the figures behind the “Lord of the Rings” movies, the first “Hobbit” outing, “An Unexpected Journey” grossed a reported $1,017,000,000 worldwide, a figure that usually returns half the amount to the studio, and which does not count the endless offshoots on video. In October, Variety reported that the three films, with one still in post-production, have cost at least $561 million, which means there’s a fine chance everyone will be in profit (except New Zealand taxpayers) after the theatrical run of “The Desolation of Smowwwwg.” It’s awe-inspiring industry, coming from the barefoot boy from Pukerua Bay, as if he had built the railway, crafted the trains, refined the fuel and produced the goods that would ride the rails. How many men in all history have commanded such industry, mastered so many forms of logistics? Read the rest of this entry »
“I think a very specific motive of my philosophy is to avoid any sort of concentration of power or control and any sort of fame,” Michel Gondry told me five years ago when he was promoting “Be Kind Rewind,” he said of his fears and hopes of what the movie industry had become. “With YouTube, it’s still going to be, you have one person. You have the chance for everybody to be heard, but still it’s one person is going to be heard more than another, and pile up all the attention. It’s the same way that you can say the journey is the destination, the making, the process of expressing yourself is as important as watching the work. Of course, it’s probably more important than watching it, buying it, whatever you do with it.” Gondry, whose films since have included “The Green Hornet,” but more importantly, several smaller films like “The Thorn in My Heart,” “The We And The I,” and now, “Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?” seems to have adopted that contrarian, low-to-the-ground approach to a major chunk of his new work. Read the rest of this entry »
A manga series that ran in a Japanese monthly magazine for girls, circa 1980, supplies a gentle story adapted by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro. “From Up on Poppy Hill” is their second collaboration (Hayao supplied the story for 2006’s “Tales from Earthsea”) and a lovely specimen of hand-drawn animation from Studio Ghibli. Finding a father lost at sea in the Korean War is the quest that unites two upstanding teens in 1963 Yokohama. Eleventh-grader Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) helps run a boarding house with her grandmother while her mother studies in America. Umi raises nautical signal flags, just as her father once taught her, hoping his ship will return to port. At school she meets Shun (Anton Yelchin), the editor of the school’s newspaper and ringleader of a crew of after-school club kids trying to save their rickety headquarters from demolition. Umi joins the cause and the first girls set foot in the nerd enclave. Read the rest of this entry »
SAIC faculty member Chris Sullivan’s first feature is a haunting, organic, decades-long accumulation of fearsome animation of fearful dreams. “Consuming Spirits” weaves together hand-drawn, cutout, stop-motion and clay techniques with the gossamer gloom of moldering nightmare. His Rustbelt Appalachia isn’t a a wholly forbidding place, but it’s intensely detailed in a way that makes you glad you don’t live there. Comparisons to Sullivan’s Gothic imagination have been made to Cassavetes and the memory pieces of Terence Davies like “Distant Voices/Still Lives,” and those comparisons may not be far of the mark. Read the rest of this entry »