Spared or Spoiled Reviews: Anomalisa

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Anomalisa (Paramount Pictures)

Anomalisa poster

Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

Written by Charlie Kaufman  Based on Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman

Starring David Thewlis as Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa & Tom Noonan as Everyone Else

This is a weird film. Anomalisa is a weird animated film. It’s Charlie Kaufman to the max. And I love his writing. This is no exception. Anomalisa is a beautifully written story of a man stuck in a monumentally existential and comical rut. A world where everyone is the same. They all sound the same. Until one day he meets someone else. A woman named Lisa. An anomaly. Anomalisa. Someone different. It is a beautiful story of love and pain and the relationship between self and others. And it’s weird. It’s just really badly directed. And Charlie Kaufman is wholly responsible for this as well. In the end I did not like Anomalisa. I didn’t appreciate all the weirdness. There was just too much weird.

Verdict: SPOILED

Anomalisa

SPOILER ALERT

Right off the bat you can see that the cast of voice actors is short. There are three. There are many more characters but only three actors playing them. David Thewlis is our hero, the author Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh is his Anomalisa. And then there’s Tom Noonan, who’s listed in the credits as playing Everyone Else. And he does. Every other character in the film speaks with his voice. Regardless of age or gender. They all sound like Tom Noonan. This is disturbing. But at first it’s really funny and interesting. Less so after a while. And then it just gets creepy.

Anomalisa 2

Anomalisa begins with a conversation on a plane and the general weirdness is comical. What a great idea. To show this bland world and our hero’s relationship to everyone else, Mr. Kaufman makes everyone sound the same. And look the same, in a creepy as hell sort of way. Tom Noonan is an excellent choice here because he has long been one of my favorite artists (actor, director, screenwriter). But not only does everyone sound like Tom Noonan. They’re all assholes. They are all annoyingly passive aggressive.

Anomalisa 3

Every other person has this dickish quality mixed with sardonic wit and sarcastic condescending asides. Like when a married couple has been together too long. They just hate each other but don’t come right out and say it. Everyone else talks to our hero like they’re an annoyed spouse. And it itself is annoying to say the least, but also very funny. Charlie Kaufman is an immensely creative person and talented writer and this idea is amazingly disturbing but successful in relating to the audience the main character’s view of the world and its aggravating sameness. He wants to leave his wife.

Anomalisa 4

And then he meets the girl… Lisa. The only other person in the world. And she is uncomfortable with herself, and with her looks, and her education, and her voice. She hates her voice. But Michael immediately recognizes what he’s found when he hears her in the distance. The sound of her voice resonates through the walls of his hotel room and he runs to track her down. Only to attach himself to her in an awful and needy death grip. But she is self-conscious and self-defeating and she already had a case of hero-worship because he happens to be one of her favorite authors. So they form a duo that is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. But it’s great. It really is.

Anomalisa 5

And Anomalisa would be a fantastic movie if not for directing choices. The animation style. The journeys off into weirdness. He takes off his own jaw at one point for absolutely no reason. He takes his face off. It’s another disturbing breakage of the animated fourth wall. The animation style is puppetry but there is no reason for him to let us know that he knows that he’s a puppet. Instead of the lack of variety in voice actors being a metaphor, it makes it seem like it’s just something he finds himself trapped in. Like he’s trapped in a badly-directed and under-cast animated film. And so are we. And I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. It was no longer enjoyable. Just weird for the sake of being weird.

Anomalisa 6

So in the end Charlie Kaufman takes the idea way too far. He needed a completely separate director. Someone to take his ideas and show them to us with confidence. Not bury them and make them even weirder with weird visuals and weird choices and that Charlie Kaufman claustrophobic weirdness that he’s famous for. And we’re trapped. And he’s trapped. And I’m trapped. And I just don’t want to be stuck in a hole with Charlie Kaufman in a Charlie Kaufman world filled with Charlie Kaufman weirdness.

Anomalisa 7

I just wanted to visit.

Anomalisa is an extremely creative and very interesting idea. It was funny and creepy. And bordered on enjoyable. But then you made it weird, Charlie. You had to make it weird.

– Mel

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Spared or Spoiled Reviews: The Last Witch Hunter

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

The Last Witch Hunter (Lionsgate)

The Last Witch Hunter Poster

Directed by Breck Eisner

Written by Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless

Starring Vin DieselElijah WoodRose LeslieÓlafur Darri ÓlafssonJulie Engelbrecht & Michael Caine

It was obvious going into this, my two hours set aside to watch The Last Witch Hunter, that it was not going to be a movie of substance. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks watching Oscar nominated films (It’s that time of year again). So I was looking at it as a sort of palette cleanser, you know. But as it turns out The Last Witch Hunter is a pretty decent story. The movie has a nice cast with Michael Caine and Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Elijah Wood. I mean it’s unbelievably lacking in substance to the point where it’s a rather shallow film… like a puddle after a light rain. And it’s like the film-makers were more concerned with having Vin Diesel say something cool to end a scene or have him pose or look good with a sword than with telling a good story that the movie has extraordinarily little depth. But sometimes after so much Oscar nominated heaviness, you can use a little shallow. Something light. And honestly the film had its moments.

Verdict: SPARED

“There’s something missing. I’m not sure what it is.” “My sword’s not on fire.” “That’s it.”

The Last Witch Hunter tells the story of an ancient hunter of witches (hence the name) who is condemned to live forever by the witch queen. Vin Diesel is that Hunter. So the movie starts off with this cool ancient battle between him & his boys and the witch queen & her brood. And then continues into the present. There are lots of cool visuals. And by that I mean things and situations that are set up to look cool. Or to make Vin Diesel feel cool. Here he is with a flaming sword. Here he is as an ancient warrior. This is Vin’s fantasy (he’s a big fantasy gamer) and we’re just lucky that he’s let us watch.

Rose-Leslie-in-The-Last-Witch-Hunter

“So you like to watch, do you?”

But then Ygritte from Game of Thrones comes into the picture and I don’t have to tell you that I have a huge crush on this girl. “You know nothing, Jon Snow” She’s so fucking awesome (she shows up in the last season of Luther [far too short a season if you ask me] and kills it). And you know she’s cool in this as well. I definitely want to see more of her. In The Last Witch Hunter she plays a young witch (a good witch?) who grew up hearing scary stories about Vin’s immortal witch hunter. Bedtime stories designed to make a young witch follow the rules.

The Witches Council The Last Witch Hunter

The Witches Council

You see there’s this uneasy truce between the hunter and the witches. They don’t involve humans in any of their shenanigans and he doesn’t kill them all with a sword. Because not only is he The Last Witch Hunter but now that he’s immortal they have no chance. It’s a great back story to a movie that totally lacked any substance whatsoever. But was still a pretty decent movie… considering.

Vin Diesel is The Last Witch Hunter

“My sword is on fire that makes me a bad-ass.”

There are many things in The Last Witch Hunter that are borrowed from other series and other movies. Or maybe we’ve reached a saturation point with fantasy ideas. And everything new is a little derivative of everything else. I don’t know. There’s an order of priests who pass down their knowledge from generation to generation like Fifth Element. And there are other things that leap out that remind me of Harry Potter or The Mortal Instruments. But I think maybe I’m expecting originality where there’s little room for it.

The Last Witch Hunter Witch Queen

The Witch Queen

In the end, the movie was not that bad. It held my attention and Ygritte was hot (and you know how I like redheads) and Vin Diesel does his best Sly Stallone impression and Michael Caine played Alfred from Batman Begins and Elijah Wood was Frodo (I almost called him Elijah Frodo) and the movie was alright. Not that bad. The Last Witch Hunter is not Citizen Kane or even Citizen Kane goes to Hogwarts but it was also not a complete waste of two hours and I could even stand a sequel.

Rose Leslie and Vin Diesel in The Last Witch Hunter

“What would we even do in a sequel?” “I don’t know. I could get another flaming sword.” “Again with the sword? What is it with you and that sword?”

The Last Witch Hunter is a movie without substance but some pretty cool style and some interesting bits stolen from other things but it wasn’t half bad. Not that bad.

The Last Witch Hunter Vin Diesel

“Swords on fire look cool. Just ask Manjushri or Avalokiteshvara.”

And yes Vin Diesel looks cool with a flaming sword. So what else do you need?

– Mel

2 Quick Reviews of 2 Batman Movies on DVD: Batman vs. Robin and Batman: Bad Blood

A Batman Animated Movies Double Feature.

First up…

Batman vs Robin (Warner Bros. Animation)

Batman vs Robin poster

Directed by Jay Oliva

Written by J. M. DeMatteis  Based on Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott SnyderGreg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion

Starring Jason O’Mara as Batman-Bruce Wayne, Stuart Allan as Damian Wayne-Robin, Sean Maher as Dick Grayson-Nightwing, Jeremy Sisto as Talon, “Weird Al” Yankovic as Anton Schott-The Dollmaker, David McCallum as Alfred Pennyworth, Grey DeLisleKevin ConroyRobin Atkin DownesTroy Baker & Peter Onorati

Batman vs Robin

“Don’t make me break my foot off in your ass boy.”

Batman vs Robin is a pretty good Batman story and I’m happy they improved the fight animation. The fights are more realistic. In Son of Batman, Damian would fly around like he was lighter than air during the fights. I don’t like when the animators suspend the laws of gravity. This one respects the rules of physics at least.

Batman vs Robin vs Nightwing

“I’m the better Robin. Say it!” “Never!”

It’s a good story about Batman trying to bond with his son. These have to be watched in order. So if you haven’t watched Son of Batman, you’ll be lost. Batman’s son is raised by the League of Assassins and now lives in Wayne Manor. And he’s become the new Robin. Replacing Dick Grayson who became Nightwing. The kid’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder to say the least. But Damian isn’t as annoying in this one as in the last.

Batman vs Robin Talon and Robin

“Is this watchmen? Or are we still doing Batman? This is still Batman right?”

Batman vs Robin has some brutal fight scenes. Some nice Batman action. There’s a great Robin vs Nightwing fight. The Robin vs Batman one from the title. And a couple of epic battles between Batman and an Army of the Dead. I enjoyed this one because the fights are more realistic than in the previous one.

Damian Wayne

“Were you trying to look down my dress just now?” “No ma’am.”

I’m looking forward to checking out Batman: Bad Blood next.

– Mel

(flip cassette to side b)

Batman: Bad Blood (Warner Bros. Animation)

Batman Bad Blood poster

Directed by Jay Oliva

Written by J. M. DeMatteis

Starring Jason O’Mara as Bruce Wayne-Batman, Yvonne Strahovski as Kate Kane-Batwoman, Stuart Allan as Damian Wayne-Robin, Sean Maher as Dick Grayson-Nightwing-Batman II & Morena Baccarin as Talia al Ghul

Batman and Talia al Ghul from Bad Blood

Real Housewives of Gotham City

I think I liked Bad Blood a little more than Batman vs Robin even though the fight scenes weren’t nearly as good. We were back to having Damian flying around like he was Yoda in the prequels and defying gravity just to have him face off against larger enemies.

Batwoman from Bad Blood

Hey Batwoman. That’s a lot of red you got there. I thought the whole point was to sneak up on people. I guess not.

But the plot of Bad Blood is epic and I like the formation of the “Bat Family” that happens in the movie. Also Bad Blood has a much cooler bad guy, Talia al Ghul. And more epic fights because in this one we have the whole squad. All the bats are here. (and even one more you’re not expecting at the end… it’s Batgirl. They tease Batgirl for the next movie)

Batgirl

“Wait until they get a load of me.”

The two movies go well together. Bad Blood is sort of a companion to Batman vs Robin. In my opinion The Batman Animated Movie Series has progressed nicely. So it’s absolutely imperative that you watch them in order. I’m really starting to like these movies. Can’t wait to see where we they go next.

The Villains from Bad Blood

The Villains from Bad Blood kick serious ass

So to Recap…

Holy DVDs Batman.

At almost three hours, the double feature of Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood is an entertaining Bat-Time on home video.

Enjoy,

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Reviews: The Big Short

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

The Big Short (Paramount Pictures)

The Big Short poster

Directed by Adam McKay

Written by Adam McKay & Charles Randolph  Based on The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Starring Christian BaleSteve CarellRyan Gosling & Brad Pitt

There are no words. There are no words to describe how much I love this movie. I loved everything about it… everything but the plot. However that’s not the movie’s fault. The Big Short is about the housing crisis of 2008. More accurately it’s about the people who saw it coming. But not just saw it coming they bet on it happening and then made millions and billions and billions of billions while millions of people lost their homes and their jobs and their lives and their minds and their money. This is a movie about the real villains. Except with varying degrees of villainy, they are all evil. The Big Short deftly handles the amazing feat of making you root for the end of the world. Making you root for the bubble to burst. Making you root for the villains. We all know it happens. This movie makes you want it to happen. It made me feel sick to my stomach. I fucking love this movie.

Verdict: SPARED

Steve Carrell in The Big Short

“I have a question please. When you say the movie made you sick to your stomach and then you say how much you loved it, do you know how crazy that sounds?”

The Acting

Steve Carrell is astonishing in The Big Short and I had no idea he could act. This is the first movie I have ever seen him in that was good. Christian Bale from Batman Begins is his insanely great self. But he always does great work. And the movie includes beautiful cameos from some of my favorite TV actors like Karen Gillan from Doctor Who and Max Greenfield from New Girl. But each and every one of these people are dirt-bags. They play finance and real estate douches and assholes. All of them. There is this fantastic scene where they’re leaving Las Vegas and they all get into different types of cars. Into different sizes and kinds of transportation and it is amazing. You see the different levels of villainy. And then the celebrities who play themselves like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez and I’m guessing some other people.

Margot Robbie in The Big Short

“Really? Some other people? There’s just me. I’m in a bubble bath. Margot Robbie in a bubble bath. What else do you need? Now stop all this nonsense and loofah my back. Now please!”

The Directing

Adam McKay’s direction is phenomenal. The Big Short is fantastic. He handles several narrators from several different pods and throws in a paper-thin fourth wall that anyone can break through at any time. And they do. They all do. And it’s wonderful. He allows for far-in-the-weeds economic exposition by having different celebrities in strange situations describe the various banking and mortgage jargon and laws and stuff. And it’s amazing. This is a disaster movie. This is The Day After, Earthquake the movie, The Towering Inferno and it’s funny. Even though it’s not really funny at all. This stuff killed people and ruined lives but here it’s very fucking funny. And as it turns out nobody wants to hear about banking and real estate unless it’s got tits & ass and it’s making them laugh.

Brad Pitt in The Big Short

“Am I laughing? Do I look like I’m laughing? This is serious business. Am I a joke to you? Am I a clown here for your amusement? Ahhhh I’m just kidding. Have a drink.”

The Writing

The Big Short is a great script based on a book by Michael Lewis. I love the metaphors and the language. The characters are bigger than life. And while sure they’re based on real people. These are all real people. But nobody talks that cool. Come on. This is like if Quentin Tarantino wrote about bankers. This is great dialogue. And I learned so much about credit swaps and sub-prime mortgages and CDO’s but that’s real banking. All this shit really happened. But again, and I need to keep saying this, while these guys are making a mint, many more people are losing their shirts… to Short, you see, means to bet on something to lose. To bet on people losing their jobs and their homes. This was the biggest crash since the big crash. There was a lot to lose… and a lot to gain from it.

Christian Bale in The Big Short

“You’re not gonna try to talk banking are you? Because there’s no way this is gonna turn out well. Or politics. Please don’t talk politics. It’s not gonna work without Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.”

The Banking

In my opinion, there is a real devil here. And it’s money. The love of money and the love of making money. They say what we needed back then were better regulations. But more than that, what we needed was better mental health care and screening for bankers and hedge fund managers. We needed to weed out the psychopaths and sociopaths who, no matter what rules we create, would always find a way to game the system for their own advantage. Because when you lack compassion, then the things that others would deem unthinkable become ways to win. Schemes implemented that destroy people’s lives in order to make money are set into motion with a smile. And that’s not going to end people. We’re not going to regulate out the ability for the evil to rob the innocent. You don’t stop wolves with a fence. You stop the wolves by getting a dog. Something to spot those people and prevent them from getting anywhere near that much power. Just like psychopaths shouldn’t be allowed to have guns, they shouldn’t be allowed to have hedge funds and they shouldn’t be allowed to run banks either.

“Wait… you can’t… no… there’s no way you could… that’s not something that… he knows that’s crazy, right? Mel’s blog is so weird today. Wasn’t this a movie review a minute ago?”

The Politics

And we keep electing these same sociopaths to public office. Sociopaths and career politicians. You can say we need to reward honesty, except the truth is subjective. And language is used against us to justify all manner of abhorrent behavior. Remember when the first thing on a politician’s resume was how honest they were. These days we allow people to feign sincerity and promise the world. And again and again they prove themselves unworthy of the office we give them. Because those who are worthy don’t want it. Our nomination process is horrible at all levels. Wanting to be in office should be evidence enough that these people should not be. They can say anything as long as it sounds like something that we want or that we fear. When someone comes along and tells you the brutal truth, not some wish list of what the world would look like in your particular ideological fantasy but the brutal truth about what can be done and what can not be done, then that person, that unpopular truthful person, should be nominated for office. But it seems we’d rather be lied to. And we need to stop rewarding this behavior.

The Big Short movie

“Wasn’t this supposed to be a movie review? Can you tell me what happened to that? Now we’re getting political platitudes from a guy with a blog.” “Um. I hate to tell you this. But that’s what blogs are used for. Like all the time.” “I did not know that.”

The Award Season

The Big Short is an important movie. It is an important lesson in a financial system run amok. But also a lesson in reality. There are laws and rules and regulations but because we have a system that is far and away a monster of our own creation, we have little hope of reining it in. The Big Short is a fun and funny movie about a financial disaster that actually happened and will happen again. But instead of pretending that there will be a way to control this monster. We should all stop feeding it. Divest completely. No matter what your financial planner tells you, he or she is lying or being lied to. No matter what a politician promises you, he or she knows that it’s not possible or they’re too naive to know. But either way, we need to starve the beast before it kills us all.

Christian Bale from The Big Short

“What we need is more artists in office and less bankers and lawyers and rich kids and thieves.”

How do we do that you ask? I don’t know. I’m just a guy with a blog.

The Big Short is one of the best movies of the year. But it’s also an important film that everyone should see. If it wins the Academy Award then maybe more people will.

The Oscar race is heating up this year… at least in my house it is.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Reviews: Creed

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Creed (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Creed Poster

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington  Based on Characters by Sylvester Stallone

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa ThompsonPhylicia Rashad & Anthony Bellew

Creed is a pure Rocky film. One of the best of the franchise in fact. However it takes a while to get going. Which is weird because in the beginning I was thinking it was moving too fast. But they were just in a hurry to get to the good stuff. The Rocky stuff. The training and the fighting. And the, “I can’t do it.” “You can do it, kid.” “I can’t do it.” “You can do it!” And Creed turns out to be a really good Rocky film. Not the best dialogue. Not so very original. But with great performances. Especially Sylvester Stallone. This is his best performance since the first Rocky. Nice work all around.

Verdict: SPARED

“Someday, Rocky my friend, all this will be yours.” “Eh. This is Philadelphia. I don’t want this crap.” “Oh yeah I forgot. Mel’s a Met fan. Someday, Rocky, all this will be NYC parking.”

You know that one movie that always makes you cry… like waterworks. Every time you watch it, it still makes you cry. With other movies you might cry the first time but if you watch it again… nothing. No tears. That’s the way it is usually. But there’s always that one film that gets you every time. For me that film is Rocky. Because watching Rocky for me, and I’ve seen it more times than I can count, is like turning on a faucet. And it’s always at the same point. At the end, right after the big fight. He gives Apollo all he’s got and then the bell rings, the camera pulls out and then those motherfucking strings kick in. And my eyes open up like a fire hose. But that’s the part that gets me. Then he starts yelling for his girl, “Adrian!” and she starts yelling back, “Rocky!” and he’s yelling, “Adrian!” and I’m weeping like a newborn. It’s disgusting. Every. Single. Time.

Creed

“Adrian. We did it.” “That’s so funny. You’re really funny. Now who the fuck is Adrian?”

So what I’m trying to say is this movie, Creed, had a lot to live up to because Rocky I is sensational. Rocky II is like an exorcism. Rocky III, Rocky IV. They’re all good. The series loses me after those. So I really didn’t expect Creed to even rate with the classics but it does. It actually does. And that was a pleasant surprise.

Rocky and Creed Speed Bag

“Real men don’t cry at movies, do they Rocky?” “Everybody who can feel cries at something. But only real men can admit it.” “Yeah but real men don’t blog right?” “Shut up and hit the bag.”

This is the Rocky story with a twist but they’re all the Rocky story with a twist. That’s what it is. Just like The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movies with a twist and Fury Road is the Mad Max story with a twist. No one’s asking you to reinvent the wheel. It is what it is. Just give the people what they want.

Creed Movie Rocky

“You see that guy? That’s your worse enemy.” “That’s you, Rock.” “Nah. Nah. I meant the other…oh shit that is me. I look good.” “You need to lose that hat.” “Never!”

We want the underdog. He’s mad at the world. We want the old veteran. He takes the kid under his wing. We want the training. Good god do we want the training. Can we get some cool training montages up in here. We want the build up. We want the villain. And we want the big fight. Creed delivers. Creed delivers wonderfully. Great Rocky movie.

Tessa Thompson and Michael B Jordan

“Tessa. I know for a fact that Mel likes you.” “No he doesn’t. He’s hated every movie I’ve ever done.” “Maybe? But he liked YOU in them.” “You messing with me, Michael?” “I’m serious.” “Then what the hell am I doing here with you?”

Michael B. Jordan is good as the young Creed, son of the former champion. And that boy’s body is in another class altogether. Good lord. And Tessa Thompson plays his love interest. Someone needs to write an amazing character for my girl to sink her teeth into. I’m thinking a misunderstood villain would be nice. I see her in everything and she’s got this amazing presence. And I’m thinking she’s gonna be big. She just hasn’t had the script that she deserves yet. But it’s coming. And then there’s Sly. Believe the hype. He is wonderful in this. This is Stallone in his element. This is the character that made him famous. Like Schwarzenegger returning to Terminator, he returns to Rocky with the best performance of his career. Hands down.

Michael B. Jordan as Creed

“If you drop your hands. You get punched in the face. So keep your damn hands up.”

The writing is so so. Full of clichés. Rocky is a cliché at this point. Rocky means an underdog with a shot at the title. To train like Rocky is when someone uses unconventional methods of training like chasing chickens or beating on sides of beef. So there was not a lot of heavy lifting in the script. The direction is good. It takes a while to get really going but once it is it’s full throttle all the way. Ryan Coogan is proving to be a talented young film-maker. This is a good movie. Creed goes right in there with the other Rocky’s. I would say it was my third favorite Rocky film. Nice work.

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan

“His third favorite?” “Yeah Rocky.” “Well, how many have I been in?” “I don’t know. A hundred.” “Can we win this one?” “Wrong movie, Rock.” “Oh yeah. That was Rambo.”

And yes. In answer to your question. Yes. The bell rings. The fight ends. And the music kicks in. And yes I cried. The tears streamed down my face. I’m like Pavlov’s dog now except with weeping like a little girl after a boxing match in a movie. It’s awful.

They got me again.

– Mel