Movie Review: FAMILY ON BOARD (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

Family on Board played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival. 

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  MOVIE POSTERFAMILY ON BOARD, 15min, USA, Drama
Poetry by George Pogatsia

On his way to report to prison, Mike Petito reflects on his life and anticipates what lies ahead … that’s when catastrophe strikes.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Family on Board encompasses so many different elements and genres that it seems almost impossible to put it all into a few reductive paragraphs. In fact I find it difficult to even fit it into one single genre. Despite all this confusion, or perhaps exactly because of it, most of the audience seemed to really enjoy it. Considering the ominous title and the manner in which the film ends I have a feeling that the mish-mash of genres was very much intentional to make the twist ending even sharper.

People’s reactions to this film seem to be largely dependent on how they interpreted the ending. Like many of the films shown at WILDSound, Family on Board ends quite ambiguously, leaving viewers to imagine for themselves how they believe the story ended. This became all the more evident during the  feedback session, where several audience members voiced a plethora of opinions about the end, that I would have never even considered.

Many people also seemed a bit taken aback by how the film begins. Some were put off by the intense violence depicted, others seemed to find the beginning weak, and the performance of the thieves to be unconvincing. I have the feeling this beginning also weighed heavily on how people imagined the films’ ending. With a film that has so many turns and shifts it’s hard to say which points actually influenced the audience’s reaction the most.

Although George Pogatsia goes through a lot of effort to convince us that the main character is a positive member of the community with nothing but good intentions, at times his benevolence seems a little forced or exaggerated. Despite the crime he committed and his ownership of a gun, the main character seems like the kindest and most caring person in the world, going out of his way to help every stranger that crosses his path. The need for this juxtaposition is understandable in order to attract audience sympathy, but it perhaps could have been carried out a little more subtly and had the same, if not a greater, impact. Nevertheless, the familiar famous faces scattered throughout the main character’s “benevolent” sequence do help distract from this exaggeration, if only a little.

Family on Board is definitely a film for lovers of crime dramas and unsolved mysteries. Certainly Tony Sirico’s presence is bound to bring a smile to many a lover of The Sopranos or Goodfellas. There’s a lot to absorb in this film, and it will take you through a bit of a roller-coaster, but who doesn’t love a good old fashioned roller-coaster ride?

Movie Review: TWISTED (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

TWISTER was awarded best cinematography at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERTWISTED, 14min, Australia, Drama/Thriller
Directed by James Hartley and James Shepherd

After a night with the girl of his dreams, Michael has a story to tell. And a favour to ask…

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Wow! Is any Australian film at the WILDSound Festival ever going to be bad? I never thought I would have a bias for flicks from the land down under, but I may have to reasses. I promise my preference for these films is in no way intentional. I’ll do my best to keep this one as balanced as possible.

To begin with, the title itself is the perfect definition of the film. The story is, in fact, incredibly twisted. From the very start you can feel something is a little bit off about the film. The shaky camera angle, the slightly unkempt boy in a school uniform coaxing you to do something you clearly don’t want to do. In fact, the very position of the camera is offputting; throughout the film the main character, Michael, addresses the camera directly as his school mate. This allows Jame Shepherd & James Hartley, the directors of Twisted to throw audience members directly into the world of the film, and creates a sense of complicity with Michael’s acts.

Despite all my bias and admiration, Twisted is obviously far from perfect. Since the film is carried almost entirely by the monologue and perspective of a single character, there are some inevitable points of monotony, which I’m not sure whether to blame on the writing, or on the acting. Neither element was poor, which is why it’s so difficult to pinpoint where exactly the film goes wrong at the few moment where it does.

One particular moment that pulled me out of the story abruptly was  when the film’s title was inserted into Michael’s monologue. I’ve never been a fan of playing with film titles inside the actual story, precisely because it removes me from the story world. In this instance the disruption is even more jarring as Michael’s repeated enunciation of the word “Twisted” gradually appears more forced and unnatural. This might have been more appropriately treated with some more complimentary camera movement, perhaps, but as it stands on its own I can’t say I appreciated it.

Regardless of this one instance, I loved this film, even with all its flaws. Some of my reason for this bias towards the Aussies may just be their propensity towards making slightly disturbing and… well… twisted films, which I have already been vocal about preferring. With that said, it would probably be advisable to stay away from this film if horror and suspense aren’t really your genre of choice. For all the rest of you, add this to your bucket list, for sure.

Movie Review: EXIT RIGHT (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

EXIT RIGHT was awarded best film at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival.

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  MOVIE POSTEREXIT RIGHT, 5min, Germany, Drama
Directed by Bernhard Wenger & Rupert Holler

Look away or intervene? When a black man is victim of unfounded, racial abuse in a packed bus, there is only one passenger who won’t ignore the situation like everyone else.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

In Exit Right Bernhard Wenger & Rupert Holler take a light hearted approach to an unfortunately all too common situation. With the current discussion about Syrian refugees, as well as the Paris bombings, this film is incredibly relevant to the issues we face today, and yet still manages to permeate through time with it’s gentle, comedic approach to the topic. It’s comforting to see that even tragic and disturbing issues can be given a lighter tone.

Those of us who use public transport frequently are well accustomed to witnessing awkward, messy, and at times even violent situations while riding the bus, or sitting in the subway car. On these occasions most of us will look away and pretend we don’t hear or see anything, however every once in a while a brave samaritan will stand up and do something about it. Wenger and Holler decided precisely to portray one such situation in their short film, and with it demonstrate that standing up to bullies doesn’t always need to result in aggression, or negativity.

It’s a lesson that we all learned in school, but often needs to be repeated throughout our lives. Many different cultures have similar stories that you may have heard before in different manners, but no matter how many times it is told or portrayed, the result is always heartwarming. By bringing this anecdotal tale to life within modern day Europe, Wenger and Holler also emphasize how this lesson persists through time periods, cultures, and locations.

Exit Right is definitely a great film to watch when you feel like you’re starting to lose your faith in humanity a little, but it’s also a fun short to enjoy on any day of the week. The directors did miss a slight opportunity for a fun extended ending that could have shown what happens to the man after he has been kicked off the bus, but that itself did not leave the film lacking in anything. This one is worth a few repeated watches, whenever you feel like you need a reminder that standing up to bullies and racists is always the right thing to do, so long as you don’t stoop to their level and respond with equal aggression.

 

 

Movie Review: SVENGALI (UK 2015)

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svengali_posterSVENGALI (UK 2013) **1/2
Directed by John Hardwick

Review by Gilbert Seah

The story of this straight to Video on demand British film is as simple the mind of the lead character who nicknames himself Dixie (Jonny Owen). Dixie leaves his small Welsh mining town for the big city of London. He intends to become the manager of what he thinks is the best band in the world. This he thinks after watching them on Youtube. He brings along to London his long-suffering girlfriend, Shell (Vicky McClure). Things are not that straightforward in the big city but Dixie and Shell manage somehow.

As the ads ask, can Dixie manage a relationship, a band and his life? That is what director Hardwick (mostly British TV stuff) intends his audience to find out.

Hardwick’s film has several charms. For one, the lead character, though annoying that he may be at times, wearing the same old disgusting vintage parka and carrying around a Tesco plastic bag, is a loveable lug who always means well. His favourite words are: “I am sorry” uttered with his Welsh accent. It is hard not to feel for a small town boy (big though he may be) moving to London in search of his big dream.

Newcomer Jonny Owen isn’t half bad as Dixie. He basically plays himself, a music enthusiast, star and producer of his own internet-based sketches of the same title in real life, which he has expanded for the big screen. But running at 90 minutes, the task becomes massive and different from the execution of short skits on the net. The little jokes and humour fail to sustain, and the one idea film soon runs out of steam. The story is also too predictable but there are a few prize characters such as the fat pop drinking Russian landlady. The camera is fond of showing her ass.

It would be an additional bonus if the band did put out some good songs on film. As it is, the band members are all shown as a lot of arguing misfits.

The word Svengali, the film title, refers to a person who manipulates or exerts excessive force over another. It also refers to a character in the George Du Maurier’s 1895 novel made into a film several times called Svengali who hypnotizes and brings to fame a young singer. It is not clear which of the three director Hardwick or writer Owen has fashioned his title from. Dixie manipulates his girlfriend and the band to stardom, though not with excessive force.

The film contains cameos from several TV personalities that North Americans will not be familiar with. Martin Freeman from the three Lord of the Rings HOBBIT films is perhaps the only one recognizable.

It is difficult to envisage huge North American audiences getting too excited about this small British export. Unless one is ex-British staying in North America, in the music business industry, in a struggling band or have Welsh roots, SVENGALI will have little appeal. This film therefore goes straight to VOD (video on demand) skipping the theatres on January the 10th. Myself, I visited Wales 2 years back, which is the main reason this little film attracted me to review.

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Movie Review: HOUSEBOUND (New Zealand 2014) ***** Top 10

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housebound_posterHOUSEBOUND (New Zealand 2014) ***** Top 10
Directed by Gerard Johnstone

Review by Gilbert Seah

It is not often that a film comes out of nowhere that turns out to be the biggest surprise of the year. HOUSEBOUND might be that film for 2015.

This is the story of story of Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), an ill-tempered delinquent forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment is made all the more unbearable by the fact she has to live there with her crazed mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) – a well- intentioned blabbermouth who’s convinced that the house is haunted. They do not get along. Kylie dismisses Miriam’s superstitions as nothing more than a distraction from a life occupied by boiled vegetables and small-town gossip. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers and strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her mother’s overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who’s not particularly thrilled about her return. Nothing more should be said about the story as surprises are around every corner.

The film contains priceless stereotyped characters everyone would love to laugh at. These include stupid follow-the-book police officers, a therapist that offers the most obvious observations and a parole officer that asks the silliest questions. But the supporting characters are also priceless. The best is the gossiping, superstitious mother who can believe that the ouse is haunted but not what her daughter tells her.

The horror comedic set-us are equally brilliantly staged from the climatic fight on the roof to the exploding head scene. As far as predictability goes, Johnstone parodies the familiar in horror films but the joked and set-ups are genuinely fresh.

HOUSEBOUND is the best horror comedy surprise coming from New Zealand since Peter Jackson stunned the world with BRAINDEAD (banned in Canada and released straight to video under the title DEAD ALIVE). Hollywood rewarded Jackson with THE FRIGHTENERS and the rest is Tolkien history. Who knows? The same may follow suit for Gerard Johnstone.

But what the film overlooks in explanation is the possessed stuffed bear. If all the noise and moving objects were due to the stranger living behind the walls, how did the bear come alive?

The film may be considered violent depending how one looks at it. Harmless fun perhaps? But funny, nevertheless. Scenes such as the one in which Kylie uses a grater to her attacker’s face could go wither way. But there are also nice touches such as Kylie finally protecting and bonding with her annoying mother.

O’Reilly is winning as the attention deficit Kylie. But Te Wiata ias the mother is completely unforgettable.

The film has had a super successful international festival run that included premieres at SXSW, Toronto After Dark, Vancouver International Film Festival, and Neuchâtel International Fantasy Film Festival 2014 where Housebound won the HR Giger ‘Narcisse’ Award for Best Feature Film, and the Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival in Scotland where it landed an Audience Award.

Peter Jackson has seen HOUSEBOUND and calls the film: “Bloody Brilliant!” It certainly is!

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Movie Review: LEGEND (UK 2015)

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legend_posterLEGEND (UK 2015) ****
Directed by Brian Helgeland

Review by Gilbert Seah

The second film about the notorious Krays, (the first was called THE KRAYS in the 80’s directed by Peter Medak) the gangster twins that terrorized London the 50’s and 60’s is given a glossier more modern approach.  But just as violent.  The Kray twins in LEGEND are both played by Tom Hardy.

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL his best film) and based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, the film is told from the point of view as well as narrated by Frances Shea (Emily Browning) the wife of Reggie Kray.   She met Kray at 16 and married him aged 22 in 1965 . She committed suicide in 1967, and narrates the film from beyond the grave.  “It took a lot of love to hate him the way I did,” were her famous words.

When the film begins, the Krays are already established gangster princes.  The script does not detail how they got to be such prominent gangsters except by having them usurp the turf from Charlie (Paul Bettany) and his brother Eddie, childhood friends of the Krays and the leaders of notorious south London gang (also known as the Torture Gang).  That was when Reggie met Frances.  The film that goes on to deal with the further rise and fall of the Kray twins; the relationship that bound them together, and charts their gruesome career to their downfall and imprisonment for life in 1969.  And all from Frances’ angle.  

LEGEND is necessarily violent.  The best segment is the well executed fight between the two brothers (made trickier to shoot as both brothers are portrayed by the same actor) which is guaranteed to make you cringe in your seat.

The script is set up to have the audience take the side of Reggie, the sane brother.  The other, who is ultra violent and homosexual and certified insane not once but twice is the script’s set up for the downfall of the Kray’s empire.

Hardy does an exceptional job playing the Krays, definitely proving to be Oscar material here.  He creates two very different characters in the Krays, one sane and the other insane.  Though the film uses the tactic of Ronnie’s glasses to distinguish the twins apart, Hardy creates different nuanced behaviour for each.  Of the other performances, David Thewlis stands out as the Krays business and lawyer connection who wants to make the business more legitimate, thus running foul with Ronnie.

Ronnie’s homosexuality is treated in the film with campy seriousness.  He justifies his gay sexual acts by claiming to be the giver and not the taker.  One difference between the two KRAY films is that Medak’s dwelt on the Kray’s doting mother’s influence, the mother played by Billie Whitelaw in THE KRAYS.

The 50’s and 60’s London atmosphere is effectively created, complete with the period posh suits, vehicles and Burt Bacharach songs like ‘The Look of Love’.

Hard to fault, LEGEND belongs to the genre of excellent British crime thrillers of the 70’s that used to be popular.

 

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Movie Review: THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (Canada 2015)

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the_forbidden_room_posterTHE FORBIDDEN ROOM (Canada 2015) ****
Directed by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Another weird and wonderful film by Guy Maddin with co-creator Evan Johnson – and one of Maddin’s best and most structured, which is not saying much.  And the film is in colour instead of black and white.

The film begins, humorously with a man in a bathrobe (Louis Negin) giving lessons on how to draw a bath.  This vignette is linked to another concerning a submarine crew in dire distress.  The captain is missing and the air supply is running out.  They chew on flapjacks to utilize the oxygen bubbles in the batter.  Does not make sense?  It does not matter.  All this is part of the weird pleasure that is abundant in a Maddin film.  A woodsman (Roy Dupuis) suddenly appears and the crew figure if there is a way in the sub, there must be a way out.  It turns out the woodsman is one of many out to rescue a damsel in distress from a pack of forest bandits.  And so it goes on.  

The way in which one scene leads to the next is impossibly funny.  A bust of the God Janus leads to possession of the carrier transforming him into Lug Lug.  To get rid of the bust, he finds a night auction to sell it to.  But he ends up bidding with his double but finally winning the bid and buying the bust back.  He turns into Lug Lug again to kill his double.  This is one example.  But it is the most hilarious segment.  And beware – the ASWANG!  – a black rotten black cone shaped rotting banana aka the jungle vampire.  (The aswang actually is the devil in the banana tree in Philippines folklore.)

Shot in Paris, which is the reason the film contains a more than impressive cast of French and Quebecois actors including Roy Dupuis, Udo Kier, Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros, Jacques Nolot and a few other surprises.  Shot in various old gothic styles of films of old, Maddin’s film is terribly funny, nostalgic and the perfect vehicle to watch while under the influence.  A real treat that might be too weird for everyone’s taste!

 

 

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Movie Review: OUR LAST TANGO (UN TANGO MAS) (Argentina/Germany 2015) ***

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our_last_tango_posterOUR LAST TANGO (UN TANGO MAS) (Argentina/Germany 2015) ***
Directed by German Kral

Review by Gilbert Seah

This documentary tells the story of love between the two most famous dancers in tango’s history – María Nieves Rego (aged 81) and Juan Carlos Copes (aged 84).

When the film begins, a closeup of Maria has her say that if she was given the chance to do it all again, she would not change a thing – for tango. The only thing is to do it without Juan. The camera moves back to show Maria and Juan standing very close, face to face. They begin to tango. This is a powerful start. Why did Maria make that statement about Juan. Did she bare that much hatred fro him? Or did she love him too much that she cannot handle it? The doc goes on to reveal the reason.

The film would naturally have a slow feel with two aged subjects. Director Kral (who got his film experience working as assistant to Wim Wenders) tries to counteract this by animating his film as much as possible. This is most evident in one scene where Maria’s two interviewers more than act out their surprise at Maria’s answers to their questions.

OUR LAST TANGO is less a film about the tango than about the relationship between Marian and Juan. And it is not a love but more a hate relationship. It becomes a bit tedious, with each complaining about the other, from start to finish of the film. Director Kral offers two sides of the story, so that the audience takes no sides. Often each would complain about the other at great length. Maria loves Juan too much but not unconditionally. Her pride is terribly broken she Juan bears a child with another woman. On the other hand, one can sympathize with Juan when he says he cannot stand Maria. It is not easy to live with someone whom one cannot stand despite the fact that that someone loves you.

The film has quite a lot of tango dances but not many shown in great detail or to great length. Rather many different types are shown during the different stages of their lives. The duo exported their dance to Broadway with ‘Tango Argentino’.

One wishes that there be more archive footage of Maria and Juan dancing together. Young dancers perform too many re-enactments so the film has too much of a made-up feel.
There is little said in the film of how the two became so famous and how rich or successful they became. Their dances on display in the film reveal very little of their talent as well.

OUR LAST TANGO is also a film about ageing, though not much is said of the subject. But one can see on the faces of both Juan and Maria – their past glories and regrets. Maria is also suffering from some nerve problem, evident in her old age. She cannot stop shaking her head.

It is difficult to imagine OUR LAST TANGO being interesting to those with little to do with dance, for the love/hate relationship of the couple is also not something that audiences will flock to.

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Movie Review: CAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****

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carol_posterCAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by Todd Haynes

Review by Gilbert Seah

CAROL, first screened at Cannes to rave reviews and winner of the TFCA Award for Best Film, is the slow moving pensive subtle new film by helmer Todd Haynes that tells the sad tale of the love affair between two women, a rich wife, Carol Aird (Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett) and a store clerk, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). The film is based on the ahead-of-its-time 1952 novel called “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith.

Therese wants out of her hum drum life. Her job as a store clerk is leading nowhere just like her relationship with her overeager boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy). Her dreams include a career in photography and a more comfortable richer lifestyle with Carol who she meets at her store. Carol is facing problems of her own. Her separated husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) is denying her daughter’s visitation rights. Harge is using her past lesbian affairs to deem her an unsuitable mother. This is the obstacle. Carol has to choose between her love for Therese and her daughter.

Haynes’ film moves extremely slowly. Not much is conveyed, for example in the first 15 minutes of the film, as the setting and introduction of the characters slowly come into focus. Even the ending is slow as the audience wonders what the final outcome of the relationship will be. But it is still a rewarding drama, all things considered. The set design, wardrobe, props and costumes are almost too perfect – like the departmental store Therese works at and the clothed and jewellery worn by Carol. The look of the film is similar to Haynes’ FAR FROM HEAVEN where the family lives in a gorgeous neighbourhood with perfectly manicured lawns.

Blanchett delivers another Oscar winning performance, the best sequence occurring during the lawyer and husband’s meeting when she is forced to have a final say. Her character is a very intelligent one – one who knows the stakes at hand, the risks involved with her relationship and what she has to do in order to survive. This contrasts with Therese’s character. Therese does to know exactly what she wants regarding her heterosexual relationship, her career and her current romance. It is Therese’s naiveté contrasted against Carol’s planned actions.

For a film about a lesbian relationship, sex scenes are necessary. It is quite uncomfortable to watch Mara and Blanchett having a go at it, in the nude, in bed. After all, this is the actress that played Queen Elizabeth, and winning an Oscar in the process. The sex scenes are long and could be shortened without much damage to the story.

2015 has seen two high calibre lesbian films, CAROL and FREEHELD, both with superb performances, yet both are highly different films with different themes. CAROL is dead serious, but not without humour, and more of the subtle variety.

CAROL is Todd Haynes (FAR FROM HEAVEN, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE), still in top form in terms of uncomfortable drama. Just as Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN broke taboos with male stars in a male homosexual drama, Hayne’s CAROL will do the same with the female gender. It is great to see two stars give their all for the craft of cinema.

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Movie Review: ANOMALISA (USA 2015) ***** TOP 10

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ANOMALISA_posterANOMALISA (USA 2015) ***** TOP 10
Directed Charlie Kauffman, Duke Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Charlie Kauffman outdid himself and almost everyone else for that matter with the script of FINDING JOHN MALKOVICH, made into a film so inventive, entertaining and fascinating, that one can hardly imagine anything topping that. ANOMALISA comes close if not succeeding.

As the stop-motion animated adult comedy drama unfolds, slow enough to allow the audience to think over many of the film’s details, the immediate question that comes to mind is why animate this story. The question seems more relevant since the animation appears to copy the actual human being and their everyday work as accurately as possible. The characters are animated but the settings like hotel room, cab and props are not. A non-animated film could have served the identical purpose. The answer to the question might be that the story could have been told in either format, but the stop-motion animation serves to highlight certain aspects of Kauufman’s ingenious story. For one, the story has surreal elements that are best highlighted in a surreal looking animated film resembling the real thing. Secondly, the artificiality of life is emphasized. And thirdly, the whole enterprise looks like a dream – a Kafka-ish world like an animated cartoon.

The apparently ‘normal’ story concerns Michael Stone (David Thewlis), an author of books on the subject of customer service, struggling with his inability to connect to people. Michael, born in England and married with a son lands in Cincinnati on a routine business trip. He meets a stranger, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who changes his world view as he falls in love with her.

The film appears really odd at the start. All the female characters are voiced by males (except for Lisa) and soon it becomes apparent that all the voices are done by one male actor – Tom Noonan. The reason becomes clear later on in the film.

Kauufman’s film works on various levels. It is one of the most human films that is animated. The world as seen by its protagonist is exactly the way it actually is. The most important person is oneself and everything else is secondary. In the same way, to Michael Stone, the only person that matters is himself, which he realizes and that there is only one other person in the world that matters, the one he has fallen in love with and the one that really would make a difference. This is the one that will de-normalize his life and hence he renames her ANOMALISA from Lisa. The film also captures the boredom or everyday life in a most exciting way – a feat Kauffamn achieves, at apparent ease.

The stop animation is a marvel – complete with its accuracy in details. The animated sex scene complete with gentials should be seen to be unforgotten. An old movie seen on TV by the characters is also animated ANOMALISA has won accolades and prizes where it has been shown. It currently, at the time of writing, hold a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

ANOMALISA is an almost perfect film in every way, down to the closing song and music. The film is a rare treat that celebrates life and the best of what it has to offer, ironically, without having a happy ending. Not occasionally but frequently brilliant, ANOMALISA is that rare movie, yes out of the ordinary that is definitely a must-see, a near-masterpiece of originality!

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