This week sees unique, complex and beautifully constructed cinema launching alongside dependable mainstream fare and boring cash-ins. For avoidance of confusion, the new releases are included below in the order you should see them.
Oh Charlie, where have you been? After the financial failure of your madly brilliant Synedoche, New York, we’ve had to wait nearly a decade for another film from the mind of America’s best contemporary screenwriter. Anomalisa, a mid-life crisis and mental breakdown told in stop-motion form, is at least worth the wait. Co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, who handles the stop-motion scenes in Community, this voyage into customer service guru Michael Stone’s Cincinnati conference collapse is sharp, funny, creepy and heart-breaking. It has struggled at the box office to date – please see it so someone lets him make more films.
The Kaufman connection carries over into our next film, just about. Kung Fu Panda 3 (he did a polish on the second film) arrives following a good showing in the US. DreamWorks’ animated franchise returns Jack Black’s fighting panda, this time as he finds long-lost relatives and steps in to protect the panda community from a sinister threat. It’s not exactly a memorable film series, but it is a fun one, and the energy that powered the first appears not to have dissipated yet.
Moving down the scale, and possibly about as far from Kaufman’s unique world as possible, is Allegiant, the third in the increasingly dull Divergent Series. A bland rip-off of The Hunger Games, this young adult dystopian sci-fi has been petering out from about the halfway point in the first film. To add further insult, the studio has again split the final book into two films, so another one is yet to come. The only real upside is Shailene Woodley, who continues to outshine her tepid franchise.
Out on DVD comes Mississippi Grind, the latest from filmmaking partners Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. They have a good track record with the fantastic Half Nelson, even better Sugar and decent It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Mississippi Grind, starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn as two gamblers off on a jaunt south, is more in the latter category, but still offers a lot in terms of the two main characters. While the plot meanders around, Reynolds and Mendelsohn’s interactions are well-worth checking out.
That’ll do for now. See you next week when Cloverfield unexpectedly comes back to life.