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Anomalisa • 13 Hours: The

Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi

January 14, 2016

Anomalisa (***) R

I find it interesting and more than a little curious that one of the most realistic—not to mention, intimate—love scenes that I’ve witnessed in a film in many a moon transpires between doll-like animated figures in the meditation on loneliness, Anomalisa. Yes, you read that sentence correctly because that’s one of the delights to be found in celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s latest cinematic opus. The entire film is animated in a style best described as something akin to rotoscoping, the process wherein actors are photographed and their likenesses are later transformed into animated form. The film’s tale of a pair of lonely hearts is suited to this minimalistic style and, because of its arresting look, draws you into its spell. The fact that the film contains such realistic depictions of emotional intimacy between its two lead characters is just a testament to the strengths of the film­—and there are many.

Michael Stone, voiced by actor David Thewlis, appears to have a life anyone would envy.

Puppet stars of Anomalisa

He has a wife and son and is the best selling author of a book that’s considered to be the go-to guide on customer service relations, a book that has also made him something of a minor celebrity in the retail establishment. It doesn’t take long, however, to determine that Michael is deeply troubled.

The first clue to the disturbance in Michael’s emotional universe is in the opening sequence wherein Michael reads a letter from an old lover while on a plane. It becomes quite apparent that he’s suffering from sort of combination of loneliness and depression that seems to have burrowed its way into his psyche. When he arrives at his destination, where he’s scheduled to give an inspirational lecture, he reconnects with his old flame but it goes horribly wrong. Later, he connects with two women also staying at his hotel and finds an emotional connection with one of them named Lisa (wonderfully voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She’s a bit on the frumpy side and has a scar on her face that she’s quite embarrassed about but the two souls connect and spend an evening together talking and connecting. This part of the film, which transpires during the middle section, is the most satisfying portion of Anomalisa and is truly moving indeed.

The problem with Anomalisa, if there is one to be found, is in its final section, which doesn’t seem to come together in a satisfying way. In particular, the finale seems a bit rushed and inconclusive and doesn’t really give us a sense of closure for Michael’s plight. Still, Anomalisa has much to say about lasting connections in this era disconnectedness and that’s enough to recommend it for me.

Anomalisa opens Friday, January 22, in Charlotte.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (** ½) R

Everyone knows that in Hollywood success breed imitation. It’s also been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Now that I’ve gotten all of those clichés out of the way you may ask why I’m bringing them up in the first place in regards to director Michael Bay’s take on the headlining making 2012 attack in Benghazi, an attack that resulted in multiple deaths including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The reason is that it’s abundantly clear that Paramount Pictures, the distributor behind the film, is clearly aiming to cash in on the audience that went wild for the similarly themed film, American Sniper, at this exact time last year. Still, there’s a distinctive difference that must be noted in that 13 Hours is made with about one fourth of the skill that earlier picture from last year. Not that 13 Hours is a bad film or that American Sniper was a perfect film in its own right. It’s just that the similarities should be duly noted in helping to alert the potential audience for 13 Hours that if they took pleasure out of last year’s surprise hit then they’re likely to find this one to right up their alley. More critical eyes, however, are apt to come away with a different take.

As previously noted the film is directed by Michael Bay. Bay is not known for his aptitude for crowning artistic achievement in film and this one is no exception.

John Krasinski in 13 Hours

After a decade spent­—with the exception of another true story adaptation Bay directed, Pain and Gain—directing those god-awful Transformer pictures, it’s nice to see Bay at least attempting something different. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I’ll take it over a Transformers film any day.
The film is pretty much a straightforward retelling of the events of September 11, 2012, once it gets past a forty five minute opening that could have easily been trimmed down to ten minutes. Overlength is a hallmark of Bay’s films, as he seems to be unable to locate a scene that he can shorten in most of his output. This one is no exception.

Once the film gets into the events of the attack on Ambassador Steven’s compound things take off. It’s true that many of the attack scenes look as if they come from a video game, albeit one that someone else is playing, but every now and then the proceedings slow down enough to let us about these people and their personal lives. The last section of the film, where the security team is attacked while awaiting US forces to rescue them, is the most effective section of the film. It’s the personal connection to the characters at this stage of the film which Bay and company take time to develop that makes the endeavor worth watching. It doesn’t always work but when it works it’s most engrossing. 

13 Hours is playing everywhere.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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