A work of artistic and technical brilliance
Naturally, since this is a Kaufman film (the writer also served as co-director with Duke Johnson (Mary Shelley's Frankenhole)) the plot isn't exactly straightforward, and it certainly isn't something you've seen before. Author Michael Stone (David Thewlis) travels around delivering speeches to loyal readers of his instructional books, including one on providing better customer service. He's in Cincinnati for his latest stop, staying in yet another hotel, with his mini-bar drinks and room-service meals. It's all very standard and boring--the story of Michael's life--until things go a bit sideways, and he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a customer-service worker and fan of Stone's who drove up to hear him speak. Their two worlds of sadness collide, and then things twist again.
Though the oddity in Anomalisa is certainly appealing, instilling a sense of mystery during much of the film and a sense of discomfort that mirrors the experiences of the characters from beginning to end, while the movie's dips into meta self-awareness are completely in service to the film's themes of loneliness and unreal reality, the movie shines brightest as it plumbs the depths of everyday mundane life. The conversations that power the bulk of the film are fascinating to watch, in part because of what is said, but also because of who is speaking. The artifice of the puppets falls away, aided by terrific voice performances by Leigh, Thewlis and Tom Noonan, and the experience left behind is remarkable.
The artistry all over Anomalisa makes it something to behold, the kind of movie that rewards multiple viewings. The puppetry, courtesy of Harmon and Dino Stamatopoulos' studio, is hyper-detailed and emotive, to the point of mimicking reality in many places, particularly in the film's signature, striking sex scene that's got to be the technical and artistic pinnacle of the technique. And while the visuals are fantastic, including some elements you might only realize after they are pointed out to you, the sound design may be even more impressive, layering sound beautifully, with a concept that's striking and completely tied to the film's feel. The effect puts the viewer directly into the shoes of the main character and hammers home the story's point better that any line of dialogue could. And while the ending isn't wholly satisfying, it fits the movie on the whole. Simple, pat and obvious are not what Anomalisa trades in.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does right by the sound, which could easily be the best part of the movie. There's so much happening aurally in Anomalisa, often in layers, and this disc allows you to enjoy it all with appropriate separation and power amongst the elements. It's not the most acrobatic of mixes and there's not a great deal of presence in the low-end, but the use of discrete placement and the clarity of the sound ensures you feel the film's audio correctly. .
Intimacy in Miniature (9:22) takes the same tack as the previous featurette and makes one scene the focus of the spotlight: the love scene between Michael and Lisa. Leigh, Thewlis and several members of the crew discuss the difficulties of creating stop-motion sex, which turns out to be an intensely detailed process. It's fascinating to see this scene in several stages and all the preparation that went into it.
After watching the film, it only makes sense to spend some time on the sound design, which is just what we get in "The Sound of Unease" (5:42). Though some of this ground is covered in the previous featurettes, this piece wraps a nice bow on this key element.
Also in the set is a code for an Ultraviolet stream or download.
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