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Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Dick Johnson
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

A welcome new phenomenon of the 21th century was the arrival of live action directors turning to animation, and to stop motion, in particular. Wes Anderson was the first, directing the gritty ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009), while maintaining his idiosyncratic style. Next was Gore Verbinski, with the peculiar ‘Rango’ (2011), and in 2015 Charlie Kaufman followed with ‘Anomalisa’, which fits very well in his oeuvre. ‘Anomalisa’ is extra welcome, because this is an adult film, not a family film, which normally appears to be the only type of animated films allowed in the U.S.

Main protagonist of this film is British customer service expert Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), who is invited to give a speech on customer service in Cincinati, Ohio. Michael seems to suffer from a disease, which could almost only dreamed up by Kaufman: to him all people look and sound the same, making it impossible to distinguish between them. All the people Michael encounters have the same plain face, and the same voice (provided by Tom Noonan). Children, women, men, film stars and even opera singers – they’re all utterly indistinguishable to him.

But then he hears a voice, different from all the others, and desperately tries to contact her. This voice belongs to one Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a telephone sales employee from a food company based in Akron, Ohio. Lisa is homely and insecure, especially when accompanied by her much more beautiful friend Emily (we viewers cannot judge that, however, as we see Emily only through Michael’s eyes, which means she has the same bland face and voice as all other characters in the film). Lisa thinks she’s ugly and stupid, thus she’s utterly puzzled by Michael’s interest in her, and not very convinced, either. But Michael’s so glad he’s found someone different that he even dreams of leaving his wife and son, to spend the rest of his life Lisa, whom he calls Anomalisa, as she’s the only one different in a sea of sameness.

It’s important to note that Michael Stone is far from a sympathetic character: he’s self-absorbed, evidently hardly interested in other people, and clearly bored to death with his current life. Even though he has a wife and son at his home in California, he tries to have sex as soon as he has arrived in Cincinnati. So one could argue that his disease is only symbolic of his disinterest in others, but Kaufman does play it as a real disease. For example, when waiting for his old flame Bella, he only acknowledges her after she has recognized him.

Nevertheless, it’s clearly Michael’s own negative attitude which eventually spoils his idyll… Next morning Lisa quickly loses her special charm to him, fading into the sameness of others at a breathtaking speed. The scene in which this takes place, is the most horrifying of the entire movie, despite a nightmare scene preceding it. Especially because at this point our sympathy has long since shifted to Lisa, instead of Michael, who remains, in the end, a pedantic, egotistical prick.

Unfortunately, this great scene is followed by one in which Michael finally delivers his speech. This is a very unconvincing, disappointing scene, by all means. It’s not only rather superfluous, it also stretches the plausibility too much, and almost spoils the entire movie.

Apart from a short prelude in which Michael arrives by plane, a short scene at a “toy store”, and a short postlude, which takes place at his own home, the entire film is set in a very common and extremely bland hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Michael is invited to give a speech on customer service. The hotel setting and short time span (the whole film takes place in less than 24 hours) gives the movie a unity of time and space, rarely encountered in current films. Indeed, the hotel’s bland browns and beiges color the film, adding to its visual character. Incidentally, the hotel is called ‘Fregoli’, after a disorder called the Fregoli delusion, in which the patient thinks several people are, in fact, one and the same person. Note that this Fregoli delusion is markedly different from Michael’s disease – he perceives people as different beings, but cannot distinguish them from each other.

The claustrophobia of the film is greatly enhanced by the stop motion, which always provides a sense of surrealism. Indeed, stop motion is such a logical choice for such an outlandish concept that one almost cannot believe the film is based on a stage play.

The film makes use of very lifelike sets and puppets. Nevertheless the puppets have different proportions than real people (the heads, hands and feet being larger than in real life), and have clearly visible seams at the eyes and ears, as the puppets have replaceable mouth parts. These seams give the puppets a rather uncanny edge. Kaufman even plays with this concept. At one point, Michael seems to be able to cut his own facial part loose, and in a nightmare scene it just drops to the floor, exposing the inner workings of his puppet self.

The realism of the puppets thus is mostly achieved through animation. Indeed, the animation of the puppets, directed by Duke Johnson, is of an extraordinarily high level. Highlight of the film is the sex scene, which in all its awkwardness and clumsiness is one of the most real sex scenes ever put to film, despite being acted out by puppets. The animators used reference from real sex actors for this scene, which took several months to shoot, and the result is a stunning tour-de-force of stop motion.

In all, ‘Anomalisa’ is a unique stop motion film. It’s admittedly not without its flaws, but Kaufman can proudly add it to his oeuvre of weird tales, and the film certainly is a welcome departure from the family film tropes of standard American studio animation.

Watch the trailer for ‘Anomalisa’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Anomalisa’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 10, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Long, Long Weekend © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with Fred complaining that none of his old pals ever writes him.

Promptly he gets a letter by old pal Smoothy, who runs a seaside hotel, so Fred gives old Smoothy a ring. Unfortunately, Smoothy just has had a major problem: all his staff has walked out of him, as Smoothy couldn’t pay them. So Smoothy invites Fred and his neighbors to come over and stay for free, only to make them work at his hotel with more than 200 guests coming to a convention. Of course, his plan doesn’t succeed.

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is a rather badly scripted episode: Smoothy’s plan is laid out in advance; at no point his plan sounds feasible, and indeed it works for only a couple of minutes. A lot of screen time is wasted on Fred and Barney going swimming, fishing and skin diving – all without success. The fishing episode at least features a beautiful painting of Fred and Barney in a boat, silhouetted against an orange sky.

The episode is most important for introducing the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, the order Fred and Barney would join in the future.

Watch ‘The Long, Long Weekend’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 23
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Tycoon
To the next Flintstones episode: In the Dough

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les chaussures matrimoniales © Émile Cohl‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is a gentle trick film, showcasing Émile Cohl’s narrative skills.

The film starts with a woman and a man taking adjacent rooms at a hotel. When they both put their shoes outside to let them brush, the man’s shoes start to make advances on the woman’s shoes. When the woman takes them back inside, the man’s shoes even follow them inside. As a consequence the man loses his shoes, but he finds them inside the woman’s room, where he starts making advances on the woman himself. In the end, the new couple leaves the hotel happily together.

Most of the film is done in live action, but the wandering shoes are done in pretty convincing stop motion. When the male shoes start advancing on the woman’s shoes, Cohl even manages to give the objects some character. It’s touches like this that make the film a little more interesting than the usual trick films of the era.

Watch ‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 8, 1908
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

L'Hôtel du silence © Émile Cohl‘L’hôtel du silence’ is Émile Cohl’s answer to J. Stuart Blackton’s influential ‘The Haunted Hotel’ from 1907. Unlike Blackton, Cohl doesn’t employ stop motion in his film, however, making ‘L’hôtel du silence’ an addition to the trick film tradition, not an entry in the animation canon.

The film features a man visiting a hotel without any personnel. The man’s stay at the hotel is far from pleasant, however: his dinner disappears into the floor, his bed throws him on the floor when the alarm clock rings, and a shower soaks him completely. In the end, he’s confronted by an enormous bill. The man tries to sneak away without paying, but he is held inside the lobby by the desk. Even the door refuses to let him go out before he has paid some tips. This last gag is arguably the best of the whole film.

The unknown actor who plays the hapless visitor clearly is a professional clown: he acts out his emotions to the audience with broad gestures, and he’s clearly used to slapstick comedy, making him a forerunner of the American slapstick tradition. The camera remains static, with all the actions taking place in two tableaux: the lobby and the bedroom. Cohl uses a lot of contraptions and quite some trick photography, but no animation to tell his story, which is quite static, but pretty amusing for a film of the 1900s.

Watch ‘L’hôtel du silence’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’hôtel du silence’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date:
 June 2, 1951
Stars:
 Tweety & Sylvester, Granny
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Room and Bird © Warner BrothersGranny sneaks Tweety into a hotel where no pets are allowed.

Another old lady sneaks Sylvester in, who inhabits the room next to Tweety. Like in ‘All a bir-r-r-d‘ Sylvester encounters a vicious bulldog, too. The cartoon contains a classic corridor-with-doors-gag, but the cartoon’s greatest joy is its great twist on the chase routine, provided by a pet inspector who at times interrupts the chase of the three animals.

‘Room and bird’ is the first of four 1951 Warner Brothers cartoons featuring music by Eugene Poddany instead of Carl Stalling.

Watch ‘Room and Bird’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date:
 October 7, 1950
Stars:
 Tweety & Sylvester, Granny
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Canary Row © Warner Brothers‘Canary Row’ has absolutely nothing to do with John Steinbeck’s novel ‘Cannery Row’.

Instead, it is the sixth Tweety and Sylvester cartoon, and the first to feature Granny as Tweety’s owner. In this short Sylvester tries to capture Tweety, who lives in on a top floor in a hotel in which no cats are allowed. But Tweety and his owner Granny give Sylvester a hard time.

The takes on Sylvester are superb: he’s well animated and his gags are excellently timed, showing Freleng’s craftsmanship. However, Tweety and Granny are hardly as funny, and their appearances wear the comedy down.

If not necessarily for its comedy,’Canary Row’ is noteworthy for its beautiful urban backgrounds, painted by Paul Julian, who would soon join UPA to elevate his background art to even greater heights.

Watch ‘Canary Row’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Canary Row’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date:
December 18, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Bellboy Donald © Walt DisneyDonald is a bellboy at a chic hotel. He’s hindered in doing his job by Pete’s mischievous son (yes, Pete has got a son in this cartoon).

Pete manages to stay calm, but not Donald. In the end, Donald is fired, but he gets his chance to spank the wicked brat.

‘Bellboy Donald’, penned by Duckmen Carl Barks and Jack Hannah, is one of the better Donald Duck cartoon of the early forties. You won’t find any better interplay between Donald and Pete, with the exception maybe of ‘Trombone Trouble’ (1944).

Moreover, the cartoon contains some remarkably flexible animation of  a type rarely seen in a Disney cartoon.

Watch ‘Bellboy Donald’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 37
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Sky Trooper
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Der Fuehrer’s Face

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