Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, 2015)

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One of the last major 2015 releases to find its way to Seattle Screens opens this week at the Guild 45th (we still have 45 YearsArabian NightsIn the Shadow of Women and Knight of Cups to come over the next several weeks), with the release of the latest film from Hollywood’s favorite self-loathing narrative-tangler, Charlie Kaufman. Teamed with co-director Duke Johnson and producers Dino Stamatopolous and Dan Harmon (among others), Kaufman has adapted his own play into a stop-motion animated film about a man (voiced by David Thewlis) who travels to Cincinnati for a conference. Lonely and depressive, he first tries to reconnect with an old flame, then finds himself attracted to a woman in the hotel. She catches his ear (and eye, eventually) because, unlike everyone else (besides him) in his world, she doesn’t look like Michael Ian Black and she doesn’t talk like Tom Noonan: she’s the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh. A touching night of human (well, puppet) connection is followed by some explicit puppet sex, followed by a nightmare and then a nightmarish world. Like all of Kaufman’s films (both as a director and a screenwriter) it’s an uneasy mix of weird humor and sadness, and like all of them Kaufman refuses to give us the happy ending.

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13 Hours (Michael Bay, 2016)

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The prospect of a Michael Bay movie about Benghazi is contemporary American absurdity at its finest. The maker of hugely successful disasters, overblown, crude, racist, misogynistic, incomprehensible, telling the story of one of the most ridiculous issues of our time, a tragedy crudely trumped up into an inane scandal by the basest elements of our political culture. After the jingoistic marketing around Clint Eastwood’s hit American Sniper a year ago (which I believe completely misrepresented that film), how could 13 Hours, in the hands of a far less sophisticated and nuanced filmmaker, hope to be anything but a wildly offensive distortion of history at best, and a piece of vile propaganda at worst? Well, I’m somewhat happy to say that 13 Hours is not nearly as racist as you’d expect it to be. It is crude, it is overblown, it does completely lack subtlety, but Bay, true to his only real belief as a filmmaker (that his movies should amass a fortune), has attempted to make a film that will appeal to all audiences, it sidesteps the kind of cartoonish racism one would expect in a war film set in North Africa and instead appeals to much deeper, much broader base instincts in the American audience: our love of firepower, our distrust of government, our isolationism.

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