Archive for August, 2009

Synecdoche, New York

August 23, 2009

Director – Charlie Kaufman

Writer – Charlie Kaufman

Starring – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams

Synopsis

Theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is mounting a new play. His life catering to suburban blue-hairs at the local regional theater in Schenectady, New York is looking bleak. His wife Adele (Catherine Keener) has left him to pursue her painting in Berlin, taking their young daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) with her. His therapist, Madeleine Gravis (Hope Davis), is better at plugging her best-seller than she is at counseling him. A new relationship with the alluringly candid Hazel (Samantha Morton) has prematurely run aground. And a mysterious condition is systematically shutting down each of his autonomic functions, one by one.

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Review

The directorial debut for Kaufman was set up for a knockout; with Philip Seymour Hoffman heading up the rotation of established actors and rising stars and Kaufman, after many successful scripts, getting the chance to perhaps show us exactly what he wants us to see from pen to screen.

When you look at Kaufman’s previous scripts (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine) that were all directed by other people, you’ll understand why this review was so hard for me to write; he’s one fucked up dude! Synecdoche, New York takes us deep inside the psyche of Kaufman (a hostile environment) and without an outside force to reign him in the film became a puzzle which I simply did not care enough about to solve.

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The film starts off with Seymour Hoffman’s character, Caden Cotard, suffering through a bit of a mid-life crisis. This quickly gets weird with a visit to the hospital and despite your best attempts you’ll likely lose it in the 2nd act (if there are indeed acts).

There are quaint moments in the film which were pretty much all I had to grasp on to and grasp them I did; after all, I’d hyped this one up myself and had paid good money to see it.

To sum up – An astute viewer might be able to get more out of this film, but it will likely leave the average audience member frustrated and fed up. For once, perhaps, those pesky producers did not intervene enough.

Verdict – Stay away, it’ll do ye no good

5 movies you’ve never seen (and need to)

August 10, 2009

Swingers (1996)

Jon Favreau directs himself and a young Vince Vaughn in this charming buddy movie. Favreau plays Mike a heartbroken, middle aged introvert, whilst Vaughn plays Trent, Mike’s smooth-talking buddy who attempts to help Mike get over his ex by going out on the town and picking up “beautiful babies”. The performances are strong, the characters relatable and the whole thing stinks of feel-good; check it out.

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Days of Glory (2006)

Directed by Rachid Bouchareb, Days of Glory tells the tale of World War II’s forgotten heroes; the North African Arab troops. The story follows 4 soldiers as they fight from Africa through to France and lead the way for their French counterparts. Not only are the acting, cinematography and script top notch, but the film raises important political issues, such as racial equality among troops, as the films main protagonist, Abdelkader, takes it upon himself to question those in command. Days of Glory falls just shy of the technical benchmark set by Saving Private Ryan, but its importance casts a sizable shadow on its American counterpart.

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In Bruges (2008)

A film that many missed in 2008, including myself, as its marketing was less than stellar. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges is a quirky, dark comedy/thriller about a couple of hitmen who are sent to Bruges (in Belgium) after a hit goes wrong. A tidy script full of twists and turns as well as a dose of hilarium make this the should-have-been hit of 2008 and one well worth a purchase.

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The King of Comedy (1982)

Time to drop back a couple of decades to Martin Scorcesse’s The King of Comedy, in which Robert De Niro plays an aspiring comic by the name of Rupert Pupkin, whose craving for success results in him stalking his idol, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the host of a talk show who craves his own privacy. A tour de force from De Niro and great dialogue bring Rupert Pupkin to life in what appears to be Scorcesse’s most underated classic. The entire film builds up to an event which does not disappoint.

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Before Sunrise (1995)

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two strangers who meet on a train in Europe and wind up spending one romantic evening together in Vienna. The narrative revolves solely around the relationship between Jesse and Celine and therefore there is no conflict by conventional standards. This may not be to everyones taste, but the chemistry between the two main characters is enough to arrest the majority of the audience. There are some great set pieces and watching their relationship flourish as they find out more and more about each other, whilst knowing that they can only spend this one night together is an emotional experience and well worth investing your time in.

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Star Trek

August 5, 2009

Director – J.J. Abrams

Writers – Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Gene Roddenberry (TV series)

Starring – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana

Synopsis

Kind of a prequel to the TV series and other Star Trek films (as far as I know) whereby James Kirk (Pine) and Spock (Quinto) enlist at Starfleet academy and quickly gain the right to be on board the first starship – the U.S.S. Enterprise. Meanwhile the baddy, Nero (Bana), who has inadvertantly travelled back in time, is on the hunt for Spock whom he believes is responsible for the desecration of his planet. When all sorts of time travel mess occurs, the Earth itself is threatened by Nero and the U.S.S. Enterprise must take action.

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Review

First off let me say that the trailer for this movie was awesome – “Fire everything!” and while that line doesn’t quite live up to the expectations (how could it?) the film itself does not disappoint. J.J. Abrams had one hell of a job turning probably the largest cult phenomenon ever in to an accessible blockbuster but somehow he pulled it off and at all the while claiming some critical acclaim (from this critic at least); so who cares that he pissed off a bunch of sweaty nerds?

The first 15 minutes of the film are truly mesmerizing, as we start off with a David and Goliath style spaceship battle that paves the way for the rest of the movie. Abrams nails this battle sequence with excellent pace and well, its just a solid space battle.

Looking back on it, the plot itself is a little contrived with all sorts of time travel and different planets (yeah it is a sci-fi, Guy!), but Abrams manages to reign it in (for the majority of the movie anyway). This isn’t to say that the plot wasn’t enjoyable, infact it had some pretty interesting thoughts on time travel and the revenge mission of Nero gives him good depth, however the problem is there are too many characters and some of plot devices they use to introduce them are bordering on ludicrous. Also, some of the threads get lost along the way.

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Abrams’ main concerns had to be the action and getting the relationship between Kirk and Spock right. He did just that as Pine and Quinto bring new life to their characters and create an interesting tension between each other. Again, some of their character building scenes (including a crucial one) seem contrived when looking back at it, but Abrams somehow gets away with this as you are swept up in his Universe.

To sum up – Littered with problems that include major plot points; it somehow comes out smelling of roses, which I put down to Abrams’ directorial prowess and a hot alien girl in her underwear.

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Verdict – Love it

Let The Right One In

August 5, 2009

Director – Tomas Alfredson

Writer – John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring – Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Synopsis

Terrorized by bullies, lonely 12-year-old Oskar befriends a new neighbor, a mysterious young girl whose arrival coincides with a series of gruesome deaths and attacks. Though Oskar realizes that she’s a vampire, his friendship with her is stronger than his fear.

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Review

Let The Right One In showcases some brilliant acting, great emotion, comedy, gore and tension and is a fresh look at the vampire subgenre. It basically has everything you could want from a movie of this genre, yet somehow I left the cinema with a distinct feeling of emptiness.

The script is solid and full of subtleties that did not go unnoticed and shows that the writer put a lot of thought in to the ethics and psychology of the vampire and others affected by it. Another thing worth noting is that the story is a constant mover but director does not often let it stray from its track.

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Aside from all the scriptual goodness and suprisingly powerful acting from the children as well as the adults, the film is let down by its editing and inconsistency. It could have done with being 20 minutes shorter, and that isn’t to say that there was a 20 minute segment at the end of the film that should have been lopped off, but that throughout the film scenes ran on too long.

The set pieces are hit and miss, the ones missing often being the ones that rely heavily on the use of CGi. With what I imagine was a small budget I think they could have done with cutting the CGi cats out altogether.

To sum up – The tentative editing destroys the pace of what could have been a lovable movie. Not lovable, but still definitely worth a watch.

Verdict – Check it out