Quick thoughts: Anomalisa & Hail, Caesar!

I’ve been busy and sick lately, and therefore haven’t caught many new movies. But this past weekend, my wife and I managed to get to Berkeley’s California Theater twice, where we saw Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa and the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! Both are worth catching, although for very different reasons.


Early on, I wondered why writer/co-director Charlie Kaufman chose to animate this simple story of a successful but emotionally troubled writer, falling in love the night before a speaking engagement. This could have been made much more cheaply in live action. What’s more, even the best animation can’t compete with the flowing emotions on a real human face. Anomalisa‘s stiff puppets, with their annoyingly-visible lines separating foreheads and cheeks, were far from the best animation.

But I soon realized that this movie had to be animated. We’re experiencing the world as the main character experiences it, and that’s pretty strange. Almost everyone he meets has vaguely the same face, and clearly the same voice (Tom Noonan’s, to be specific). Even his wife, young son, and former flame sound like the same full-grown man.

Here’s a hint: Most of the film is set in the Fregoli Hotel. Wikipedia describes the Fregoli delusion as “a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise.”

No wonder our protagonist, Michael (David Thewlis) falls so heavily for Lisa. Awkward and almost entirely lacking in self-confidence, she isn’t like everyone else. Literally. She has a unique face and the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh. What a relief after countless Tom Noonans!

By the way, Anomalisa has a fairly explicit sex scene. In a live action film, we’d be aware that we were watching two actors taking off their clothes and faking the act. Animation allowed us to see the characters and not the performance. It also helped create one of only a handful of successfully funny sex scenes in movie history.

I give Anomalisa an A. in fact, this might topple Tangerine as my favorite movie of 2015.

Hail, Caesar!

Ever noticed that George Clooney only does broad comedy for the Coen brothers? He’s at it again in this very funny farce about Hollywood in the early 1950s–when the studio system was verging on collapse.

Josh Brolin is the film’s real star as Eddie Mannix, the top executive running Capital Pictures’ studio. The Coens clearly want you to hear “Capital Pictures” (a fictitious company created for this movie) and think “Metro Goldwyn Mayer. There really was a top MGM executive named Eddie Mannix who–like the character in the film–answered to a New York-based Mr. Schenck. Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum play movie stars clearly modeled after top MGM stars of the time, Esther William and Gene Kelly (and yes, Tatum can dance like Kelly).

And Clooney? He plays a movie star shooting a toga movie. He’s so dumb one wonders how he memorizes his lines. He gets kidnapped by…well, best to let you discover this for yourself.

Don’t look for accurate movie history here. Even the aspect ratios from the early 1950s aren’t accurate. But you can expect a lot of laughs. I give Hail, Caesar a B+.

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