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Mojave and Anomalisa

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I am not, nor have I ever been, a person of faith. Since childhood, I self-identified as an agnostic, but this was based more in my conciliatory nature and innate skepticism than in any real germ of possibility. I even tend to question our unilateral acceptance of science as a quasi-religion, far removed as most of us are from the tangible, provable aspects of it. I don't begrudge anyone their belief, or faith, or membership in a club; church has done a lot of good for a lot of people. It's just not for me, and that's fine—I don't like NFL football either, but we can all still be friends.

But the notion that a certain stripe of Christian requires constant, media-based affirmation troubles me. For one, the mass-commercialization of faith strikes me as morally questionable at best, and more likely odiously manipulative. And if one's faith is firmly in place, why the need for constant soft-rock and after-school-special reminders?

Realistically, it all comes down to aesthetics: Most Christian rock is terrible, and thus I have a problem with it. Ditto the handful of faith-based movies I've sat through. They've all put me in a lapel-grabbing mood, as if maybe with enough strong shaking we could convince the right people that just because it's Christian, it doesn't have to be poorly made. Sure, this from a cynical non-believer, but I'm also a catholic consumer of art and open-minded enough to go along with the exploration of any idea, provided at least some level of craft and intention.

Which is all to say I did not watch God's Not Dead 2, the only new movie starting its run this past weekend. I didn't see the first one and I was worried that I would be lost in the narrative. And as much as I used to enjoy Clarissa Explains It All, the notion of a middle-aged Melissa Joan Hart taking on the imaginary battle against Christianity wasn't enough to get me out to the multiplex. Instead, I went to my equivalent of church: I double-featured some recent, currently streaming examinations of the darkness of the human condition.

MOJAVE caught my eye because it was written and directed by William Monahan, who scripted The Departed (2006) and The Gambler (2014), among others. His work can be hit or miss, but it is consistently intelligent and clever, and suffused with the sort of gritty misanthropy that I love so well. Starring Garrett Hedlund and Oscar Isaac, it was apparently released late last year, but where and who saw it I cannot say.

Hedlund plays Tom, a bored, depressed, vastly successful movie director. He has an English wife and child, a French actress girlfriend and a mansion in the Hollywood hills he barely lives in. He feels compelled by the desert (yeah, the metaphors are a bit much) and vague notions of self-destruction. On a fateful trip, he rolls a jeep and encounters a weirdo in a duster named Jack (Isaac), who may well be a drifter-killer. Tom gets the better of his newfound nemesis, but his actions set up a greater conflict that follow him home to Hollywood and drag him back to the scalding hardpan. It's not a great movie, and its insistent nihilism feels forced at times but Mojave is thoughtful and different — in that light, it's superior to most of what I saw last year.

ANOMALISA, on the other hand, is every bit as good as you've heard. Writer Charlie Kaufman's latest (co-directed with animator Duke Johnson), a stop-motion exploration of adulthood, infidelity and the notion of self, it's unreservedly the most beautiful movie of 2015.

Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a British speaker and author, is in Cincinnati on business. Holed up in his hotel room, he is visited by the memory of a relationship gone bad. He drinks, speaks to his mildly disinterested wife and son on the telephone, visits the hotel bar and attempts to re-connect with the aforementioned ex. That having failed, he drinks more and eventually ends up in the company of two young women in town for his presentation. This leads to more drinking, a misguided encounter with painfully shy Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a lot of vigorous self-examination.

Like all of Kaufman's work, Anomalisa is dazzlingly inventive, witty and composed. But this one is also deceptively simple: a stripped down, gorgeous, funny, heart-breaking, sometimes graphic look at the stuff of being a grown-up in the world.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

THE BOSS. Melissa McCarthy plays a ruthless business tycoon who's trying to turn over a new leaf (sort of) after doing time for insider trading. R. 99m. BROADWAY FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

HARDCORE HENRY. See the sights of Moscow on an amnesiac first-person POV run through a bloody gauntlet of mercenaries and kidnappers. R. 96m. BROADWAY FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

Continuing

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. This tight, paranoid, claustrophobic thriller of a monster movie is well-acted, compelling and enjoyable from first frame to last. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman. PG13. 105m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. Ben Affleck is surprisingly solid as the new Batman, but neither he nor Henry Cavill's sturdy jaw can save this high-production cacophony of collapsing buildings, baffling dream sequences, congressional hearings and rushed exposition. PG-13. 151m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

DEADPOOL. A bloody, clever, distinctly adult Marvel vehicle for Ryan Reynolds' weird charisma. A fun break from the steady flow of grim comic adaptations. R. 108m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DIVERGENT: ALLEGIANT. See it through if you must, but this chapter of the YA futuristic dystopian action series lacks narrative inspiration and compelling characters. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

GOD'S NOT DEAD 2. A Christian teacher (Melissa Joan Hart — hey, Sabrina) beset by civil liberties baddies goes to court for talking about Jesus. PG. 121m. BROADWAY FORTUNA.

MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN. Jennifer Garner stars as a woman on a mission for her ill daughter, whose recovery stumps doctors. PG. 109m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2. Sure, there's some rote predictability but there's also silly fun about what love can be at any age. Starring Nia Vardalos. PG. 94m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. Tina Fey stars in a freewheeling comedy about a war reporter that's compelling, funny and peopled with interesting characters, but misses the chance to take risks and say more. R. 111m. BROADWAY.

ZOOTOPIA. An animated animal take on the odd-couple buddy movie with Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin and Idris Elba. PG. 108m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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