Thursday, November 13, 2008

Synecdoche, New York and Quid Pro Quo

Synecdoche, New York imdb

Charlie Kaufman's latest work. Hmm, I guess I was thinking about this driving home how

a) this was a movie that very well would require multiple times seeing it to really understand well

b) there's a ton of elements to the story and perspective. And especially it being quite "introspective".

c) I've never seen anything quite like what Kaufman did with this movie in anything. I'm not certain any story has been told on-screen or even in writing, to what was explored here.

d) Charlie Kaufman should do something involving Metaphysics.

e) It would help to have watched Kaufman's movie "Adaptation" before or after seeing this just to grasp exactly where he's coming from.

f) I totally can see why this movie was not released for many years. I guess going back to 2005. It's to put it simply, a mindfuck, and one that many will either totally hate it, or totally love it. The IFP's will probably go to bat for it (although in recent years even they have let me down embarrassingly), but the Multiplex's I easily could see not touching this movie with a ten foot pole.

Enough about all that. This is one moving yet confusing movie. Over 2 hours in length. Phillip Seymour-Hoffman is his usual talented self playing the lead character, a man whose married and has an artist wife (played by Catherine Keener, who makes miniature-sized paintings) and 4 year old daughter. He is a stage director. His wife seems to lack passion for him and ends up going off to Germany with her daughter. Caden (PSH) believes he's dying. He also has clear advances from 2 younger women, 1 played by Michelle Williams, whose a lead in his current play. The other, whose job is to take tickets at the box-office, played by Samantha Morton.

When his wife goes away with his daughter, he then receives $500,000 Grant to make a new play. At that point he ends up mixing more with both of those younger women, namely Samantha Morton's character Hazel. That doesn't work out. She ends up moving into a house that is always on fire for some reason. He does hook up, gets married, and has another daughter with Michelle Williams's character Claire. Eventually it doesn't work through the process of making this huge production for a play of what is in effect his life, in this abandoned lot in a borough of NYC.

Confusion: He goes to Germany, which seems like not too long after, and they make note that his formerly 4 y/o daughter is now 11. Between that time they do flash a sequence of him at Claire's mom's funeral and then Caden and her getting married and having a daughter. But the way it looked, it very easily could have been imagination/dream sequence/fantasy.

Before you know it, 17 years have gone by. I would assume most of the same large ensemble of people working on his play are still doing it.

This is where it gets REALLY WEIRD. He then ends up casting people to play people who were playing him. Sort of like the chaos theory, a tv-inside-a-tv-inside-a-tv-inside-a-tv. He has a guy play him, and then a guy playing the guy playing him, lol.

Ya see perhaps why this was not released in 2005?..mind you, Kaufman not only WROTE this..but also for the 1st time DIRECTED IT.

So, not meaning to spoil..but I guess within the whole epic story, Caden ends up outliving all these women, including his daughter who somehow dies of ink-poisoning from her tattoo, or something, in Germany. His daughter Olive in effect grew up and was a German girl who became a young woman who ended up ultimately being tied to his ex-wife's best friend Maria played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

But character after character dies, and while Caden does in fact age and takes a lot of meds. His medical problems seem to not be a focus as he gets older (which they are at the beginning of the film, being that he thinks he's having a mid-life crisis, and dying very lonely).

The play is still being written, rehearsed some 20+ years later. One possible idea is making the play is Caden's LIFELINE. As long as he is continuing to write, cast, and rehearse it, he is still around. But the people in his life are not ultimately of the same fate. The play is a metaphor for his life.

Getting past a few issues I have with using human waste (green poop? among others) and the way he derailed/faded-out both his 1st wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and their daughter's role in the story, this is as unique and memorable movie I've seen this year, this decade, or even ever. Like I wrote above, it definitely is one of those things if you are open-minded enough and have an imagination for, that will take your brain into a place I don't think you've gone before. Likely only someone like Charlie Kaufman could do that.


I am a fan of Nick Stahl. Namely movies like MAN WITHOUT A FACE, BULLY, and IN THE BEDROOM. And earlier this year, I thought he was quite good in SLEEPWALKING as well. In this, he plays a paraplegic who discovers an unknown population of wheelchair-admirers among other things. He also meets a woman, played by Vera Farmiga, who actually tips him off of this originally; but she claims to be different. She wants to get close to him, but also wants to share her desire to be like him.

The metaphors and characters were somewhat interesting, but the plot didn't go too far. I'm not sure if they found love, or just who they were. He ends up being able to walk and she ends up going through the charade of acting as if she was paralyzed as well.

The fetish and desire to connect via a handicap is not too known or typical as a basis for a love story; but I didn't entirely grow to connect to either of them even with their seemingly miraculous change in their physical lower-half's status.


Jeremy Messersmith - The Silver City

This is just a brief, early review. It's climbed to #43 on my list

This has been quite the good year for music from my home state of Minnesota. Cloud Cult put out perhaps a *breakthrough* record in "Feel Good Ghosts"..Jenny Dalton you could say the same about somewhat compared to her last LP. And then this guy, Jeremy Messersmith also made a really polished sophomore effort. Fans of Sufjan Stevens who are yearning for something new..perhaps another *state concept album*..well for MINNESOTA, a state Sufjan has yet to do, this record is very much of the caliber of those albums like ILLINOIS and MICHIGAN. Some nice Beatles-ish moments among other elements. I like every piece on it, and it definitely fills more when heard all at once.


Just out of shear laziness/lack-of-time I probably will end up posting many reviews (copy/pasting) from my rym account or forum posts. If I were being paid for this, I'd find the time (somehow!), but of course I'm not so it very well may be the best I can do. I will mention though, I think when the final "List" is written up in here, and there will be one again..and it will be finished of course unlike last year's draining-of-steam and time. I plan to at least write up stuff about the top 10 (esp #1 of course..hehe!) and I was thinking today, maybe the best thing to do with the others is to just link the myspace's, give artwork, and do "Twitter" length reviews (140-200 characters max). Maybe a few key tracks, etc. Probably will expedite the process and allow the mass of 50+ reviews to come out. Honestly, it very well may be closer to 75 or more again.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Early November Double Features

On back-2-back nights this week I caught 2 movies in theaters. Tuesday, in order to avoid the election, I saw a couple of movies in Uptown. The following evening I ended up catching 2 more in Edina.

What Just Happened? imdb

For the 2nd straight year, De Niro has been in something I might describe as a redefining or at least a different kind of a role for him. 2007's "Stardust" playing a gay flying-pirate captain. And in this, a Hollywood producer; who while has a strong personality, he ends up having to do a lot more psychological examination of his clients and his own personal life. The portrayal of a high-stakes, high-stress lifestyle. And I think overall it was pulled off well.

This will remind many of the Tim Robbins movie "The Player." I suppose the comparison is quite valid in that it's a look inside one part of Hollywood. At the same time, possibly due to the tone or time it was made, "The Player" seemed a lot more subtle and dramatic, while "What Just Happened?" had a lot more constant humor. De Niro reminds me of among others, of the late Sidney Pollack, who had those meltdowns that were always worth seeing. One of those guys that either he made you laugh just on how he spoke, his interaction with others, or his sense of priorities were funny due to how he would communicate with people. Also, generally just someone I would enjoy being around I guess.

While the ultimate fates of the different clients and people he invests so much into dealing with is not entirely a "happy-ending" ("Indie" I suppose in that way), seeing the portrayal of different experiences a producer like him goes through is rewarding enough. Bruce Willis and the whole "beard" predicament. To hear De Niro mouth-off about that alone was priceless. The ending of the Sean Penn picture with the dog and how the director manages to con the Studio head (Catherine Keener); which is evidenced when it gets into Cannes. Everything with his ex-wives and daughter and the side-plot with the producer who dies, and Stanley Tucci.

While I doubt it'll be a classic many years from now, I pretty thoroughly enjoyed this. Quite funny, and without much if any filler.


Happy Go Lucky imdb

This was uneven. The 1st 1/3 I'd say or maybe about 1/2 of this was a lot of silly antics from the characters, mainly the lead Sally Hawkins who plays "Poppy." Perhaps her accent at times made it slightly difficult to follow, the personality she presented as a free-spirited, jolly young woman who found it easy to smile or laugh at most of her daily life experiences. Maybe my favorite scenes being when she ends up going to Flamenco dancing class with a co-worker. Poppy, and I think actually even more, the instructor were quite funny. "Myyyy spay-sss...My-spaysss!" I kind of wished I had been in the class myself!

But the Poppy character (and Hawkins I imagine) reminded me a lot of the british female musician Imogen Heap. Partially in her colorful style of fashion (she always wore multicolored knee-high boots among other things), and maybe more-so in her cheery persona that Imogen Heap could be described as having when she does interviews, or especially in her Youtube video blogs. In fact, I think it wouldn't be too big a stretch if it came about, for Sally Hawkins to portray Heap on the screen, which begs my curiosity if Imogen Heap is aware of Hawkins or this movie (and vice-versa).

The 2nd portion of the movie ends up getting a bit more serious. Mainly with Poppy's relationship with her driving instructor played by Eddie Marsan. I imagine this was an influence in his character from real-life, but Scott, Poppy's driving instructor, almost every scene is very on-edge and stressed-out. Poppy contributes to that while he's trying to teach her, but he definitely comes across as someone who has anger-issues. I guess the whole "backseat driver" symptoms come up with anyone who rides in a car with a new driver; but it's his job after-all, so you'd think he'd had enough experience to avoid stressing out over it. Perhaps it also was some strange way of displaying his love or at least social interest in Poppy. But that's kind of the challenge. He's so strong-willed and short-fused, that even SHE can't lighten him up.

But I also credit the actor for that. While that may not be everyone's cup of tea in terms of dramatic performances, he does a very good job of adding a in-your-face, serious character to what mostly is a less-than-serious story overall. At the same time, I guess the previews and entirety of this film didn't end up being as moving as I hoped; but it was certainly one of the more memorable pictures I've seen this year. And it introduces Hawkins, which added reason to see it as well.


Slumdog Millionaire imdb

Caught an advanced screening of this picture which on the surface sounded like a modern-day Bollywood work or some common foreign-language movie that I often see nominated during awards season. Well, it very well may get nominated during awards season, but I wouldn't call it exactly run-of-the-mill. Very cleverly edited and flashback + present day storytelling of an 18 year-old phone-center assistant who ends up appearing and having great success in East India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." He gets taken-in by the show's security in suspicion of cheating to continually getting question-after-question correct, with having very limited education and only being 18 years old. He's even tortured, as the police don't believe his story. But HIS STORY is where it gets quite interesting.

His mother is killed when his village is raided when he is very young. Him and his brother flee, and they end up meeting a girl named Latika who he immediately befriends. Through turmoil and his older brother's influence, Jamal ends up losing Latika, who is of course his first and he believes true-love. Eventually when they get older, Jamal and his brother Salim end up seeking out and rescuing Latika from what would be considered a child-slave trader, whose primary interest in the kids is to find the one's who can sing well and then blind them. Blind singers apparently command(ed) more money to perform or trade there at that time it's set in. After they escape, it is shown how much all 3 of them have changed. Salim unfortunately falls prey to what I'd describe as a mob-businessman; and he's forced-in to taking Latika to him. Jamal loses both of them at that point.

A few years later, he starts working at the cellphone customer service office and stumbles upon their database and both Latika and Salim's whereabouts. He visits both of them, and learns that not a lot has changed. Latika is still more or less a slave to the same wealthy mobster; but he manages to see her and also learn that she watched the Millionaire show. Jamal gets the idea that if he went on the show, she would see him.

What transpires at that point I won't spoil. But it definitely worked on many levels. Logistically I suppose some things didn't necessarily seem entirely realistic, like how would Latika be listed in the cell provider's listing if she more or less was a slave? But the story, flashbacks, and the way it ended up being told was very moving. I particularly liked the youngest portrayals of the three main character most.

It may not be my film of the year, but I would say it's certainly one of the best I've seen in many months. "Transsiberian" and of course "Snow Angels" might be it's biggest competition. I hope more people get to see this. It won some festival awards recently in fact, as the girl from Miramax, who appeared at the theater mentioned.


Religulous Religulous

Bill Maher somewhat channeling Michael Moore with an agenda that religion is all fiction and fairy tales more or less. This definitely was worth seeing for the amount of comedic value and one-liners. I also liked a lot of the different unusual people from many sects and angles into different religions. The black fella who was a minister I believe, who had been involved as a singer on a pop hit that it escaping me now was a laugh-a-minute. Claiming he was in the Jesus-bloodline, lol. The satanic priest who was a born-again; Maher had a field-day with him. I imagine like Michael Moore and a lot of these cleverly edited documentaries, a lot of footage was shot and edited out, that Maher had no comeback or debate with. But like Michael Moore, it's for entertainment value 1st and foremost, so it didn't matter.

I suppose one thing I wished he'd been able to do is cover more religions, more obscure perhaps like Buddhism, and many of the ethnic religions. Time and resources (money) being factors I suppose. Maybe a 2nd picture will consider doing that. Id' also have liked to have seen Deepak Chopra or at least 1 modern theologist interviewed. I wonder if Chopra declined.

Unlikely the funniest movie of the year, but still one I'm glad I got to see. Maybe since Maher made it, Michael Moore now won't have to.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Wicker Man

These are a couple of a handful of reviews I mean to add here in the next few days/weeks as I'm starting to consume a fair amount of new films now.

My background with "The Wickerman" is this. I know a fella on some message boards who goes by that screen-name for one, but if I'm not mistaken, he takes it from the song that Iron Maiden wrote. Perhaps the song itself was inspired/named-after the movie or story.

The band Agalloch released an EP earlier this year titled "The White" which takes samples from it. Very folky, dreamy, acoustic. It's really a moving album in fact, and it certainly always made me curious of the source of the samples until I found out they were taken from that 1974 picture, which honestly, reminded of something taken from The Twilight Zone or perhaps The Outer Limits. Even Mysterious Island..when the sample referred to an island, pagans, and a heathen.

Well I happen to be a pretty big fan of Christopher Lee. Mainly a nostalgia and lover of the british "Hammer Series" Dracula pictures. Many others, along with Peter Cushing. He always commands a presence on screen.

Cutting to the chase. I finally saw the 1974 supposed *Horror Classic* which I rented for Halloween. The best things I can say about it is, I liked it more than the remake (not surprisingly), the performances were good from Lee, Edward Woodward (who may be best known for playing the lead role in the 80's crime-drama "The Equalizer"), Ingrid Pitt, and Britt Ekland who among many of the female cast, is hardly shy for the camera (hehe).

The biggest criticism I have are about it is

a) What was up with ALL THE MUSIC? I felt like I was watching a Ken Russell film at times, lol. I mean I guess part of the intent of the director was to make it creepy, in a subtle, lack-of-a-sense-of-reality sort-of-way. I guess. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who kind of got lost watching girls sing while naked over bonfires. And at the same time, I think Woodward's meltdown at them also added to it's lack of suspense.

b) I wished they'd shown more background on how Sgt Howie or whoever on the mainland got word of the girl's disappearance in the 1st place. I suppose it's not something they care about, but logically, it doesn't make a ton of sense for them to call the cops to search for a girl in an entirely different portion of land. I mean, part of it is the society there, but my 1st reaction if I were receiving the notice would be to ask if they have any authorities on the island 1st and foremost for that sort of thing. But that would defeat the purpose of the whole story of course.

I also didn't love how un-poetic the ending was. Had I written it, I'd have had Woodward escape out of the Wicker Man and somehow caused Christopher Lee's "Lord Summerisle" to die either at the hands of the Wicker Man or just from shear shock. It definitely is a film that didn't include the most complete resolution. At the same time, Lee has claimed it's his best or favorite performance of his career (or it was the best film he was ever in, I forget exactly what the bio info said on the DVD)


Now the remake from '06 at least did give more background on the girl and the fact Nicholas Cage as the cop, comes over to see an old flame and learn it's his own daughter who became missing.

They did try to make it more suspenseful or horror-movie-like. Maybe the best or most creepy thing they had were these two twin ladies who really could have been the much older versions of the two creepy girls that are flashed so freakishly in Kubrick's "The Shining." I genuinely felt creeped out watching them; although the fact it was in daylight didn't help.

The other real head-scratcher that the filmmaker Neil LaBute put in this adaptation was this scene at the beginning with Cage on the highway stopping this lady and her daughter; which eventually leads to a Semi hitting them and Cage attempting but failing to save both the girl or the mother. They kept flashing back to it, which I thought could have worked well, but their never really was any explanation about the significance of it. Was that supposed to be his daughter, Rowan Woodward? (last name I imagine used a cameo sort-of to Edward from the original) Was the fire supposed to be a foreshadow for things to come? It really ended up just being a random event that gives you only your imagination as to what the point of that scene was.

The love story I guess added something, but I would agree with a lot of the comments and reviews online about it. Cage did a good enough job, it's just the material was so predictable and trying to be creepy just for the sake of it, that it didn't add much or have the out-of-left-field approach that the original at least did. At the same time, I probably wouldn't go as far as to think it's the worst movie this decade or anything. Some reviews totally panned it, and I guess for me, it was watchable at least, especially for someone who hadn't seen the original (although of course I would recommend seeing that one as well).