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Anomalisa (2015)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/7/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/17/2016

Entertainment mediums have no gender, age, race, or religion, they simply are what they are. However, many of them have been subjugated to aligning to a certain pattern. For example, animation is used thought of as being something which is just for children. (I can remember once asking my sister about The Simpsons and she responded that she "didn't watch cartoons".) But, there are plenty of example of animated films and televisions shows which are decidedly not for kids. What about stop-motion animation? We have seen a recent revival in this medium with movies like Coraline and Paranorman, amongst others. Can this animation only be used to create family entertainment? Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa answers that questions with a resounding "No".

Were going to do something a little different with this review. This is the basic plot and theme of Anomalisa: Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a successful author. He is married and has a child. He also has a very unique condition -- everyone in the world sounds the same to him and they have the same face, no matter their gender. (All of these voices are provided by Tom Noonan.) However, while visiting Cincinnati, he hears a different voice and pursues the owner of said voice.

This idea, from Oscar-winning Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is a fascinating one. Its not made clear if Michael is suffering from a true mental disorder or if it is simply part of the world view of a man who is in a mid-life crisis, but the notion that everyone looks and sounds the same is an interesting and creepy one. Played differently, this could have been something akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone, as Michael stumbles through a world of clones and is shocked and overjoyed when he finds someone who is different.

So, that's what the movie is about, but here is what we really get. Michael arrives in Cincinnati, checks into his hotel, orders dinner, makes some phone calls, has drinks with an old flame, he goes to a sex shop, he takes a shower. And finally, it's at this point that he hears the other voice.

At first, Anomalisa is interesting due to the animation (more on this in a moment), but the movie soon becomes soul-crushingly boring, as we simply get one mundane scene after another. These are meant to introduce us to Michael and immerse us into his world. The scenes slowly develop Michael's character, which should be admirable, but this almost plays like a documentary, as we simply watch this man go through the routine and insignificant parts of being on a business trip.

Once Michael hears the voice and meets its owner -- I won't spoil these details for those who are actually interested in the film -- the movie does pick up a little bit. However, the dialogue and actions still wallow way too much in the everyday. Is it cool to watch puppets have a conversation which you may have actually had in your life? Not really. And then we have the sex scene. Yes, Anomalisa contains a five-minute sex scene with the puppets. The fact that these characters have sex is somewhat important to the story. Showing it...not so much. What is this, Team America: World Police? From this point, the movie moves on to a down ending which also contains a moment which is not only gross, but implies that Michael truly has no idea how to interact with other people.

The technical aspects of Anomalisa are far more interesting than the movie itself. The detail placed in the puppets and the sets are truly fascinating. The hotel room actually looks like a miniature real-world hotel room, even down to the hair-dryer in the bathroom. The puppets look great and there are several moments where they do a 360 turn to show off how they are detail from front to back. In order to maintain a certain "lo-fi" vibe to the film, the filmmakers have opted to not erase the lines in the puppets faces which delineate the edges of the removable parts. As for the story itself, this project began as an audio-play conceived and written by Kaufman. Given the use of one voice for the majority of the characters, I can see this working in this medium.

As for the film, it is a truly failed attempt at doing something different. The idea is clever and the movie is technically fascinating, but the overall effect is dull and not engaging. Those wanting a true "Charlie Kaufman" experience will have to wait until the second-half of the movie for a scene which has that feel. (Michael's meeting with the hotel manager.) I know that there are those who are falling over themselves to praise the film, and, again, the animation should be praised. But, overall, the movie cannot be recommended.

Anomalisa has way too much full frontal nudity on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look great and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is phenomenal as we can see every line on the puppets. The picture has notable depth, as we the puppets are clearly removed from the background. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. During the scenes in which Michael is hearing voices all around him, we are treated to very impressive stereo and surround sound effects, some of which are detailed. There are a few moments which provide subwoofer effects and the film's music sounds very good.

The Anomalisa Blu-ray Disc contains three extra features. "None of Them Are You: Crafting Anomalisa" (30 minutes) begins with the origin of the product as a simple audio-play and explores how it morphed into a stop-motion film. We get interviews with Thewlis, Noonan, and Leigh, as well as the creative team. Following a peak at the dialogue recording sessions, we are then taken on a journey showing the creation of the puppets and the animation process. "Intimacy in Miniature" (9 minutes) examines the sex scene. The actors talk about recording the scene, while Kaufman and Johnson talk about the technical factors. We hear about the approach to creating an authentic sounding world in "The Sound of Unease" (6 minutes).

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long