Monday, April 20, 2009

Wasted Postage - More reports from the Netflix theater

Synecdoche, New York (2008) - Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is disorientating, frightening and impossible to describe in a linear fashion. The plot involves Philip Seymour Hoffman's playwrite lead character who receives a genius grant to do with as he wants. He chooses to create a theater production perpetually stuck in rehearsal, with thousands of actors cast to play everyone he's ever met, including himself, to act out a performance in a model New York City. His character is obsessed with creating truthful art. At a certain point, even the actors playing people in his real life have doubles following them around, acting like the actors acting like real people (haha). His production blends and influences his real life, and it's often hard to tell when he is on or off stage. I can't make heads or tails of most of the plot turns, but somehow the emotions were real, and leave a lasting impact. It's an insanely ambitious film that requires repeated viewings, but I don't think I have it in me to see it again soon, maybe a year or two down the line.

Here's the best I can do with the film's themes:
Staring into the mirror and honestly seeing yourself. Staring into the mirror and seeing the rest of the world. Everyone is special, so no one is special. No one is an extra, everyone is the lead in their own tragedy. Finding the best that we can do as we hurtle towards death. We are a reflection, and dependent, of everyone we know - fuck everyone we know.
To get a better idea of the tone, Kaufman also wrote (but didn't direct) the meta-fictions Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovitch, among others. B+

Sex Drive (2008) - It's a teen sex comedy, but a pretty good one, like a small-caliber Superbad. It definitely angles for Apatow's version of comedy/awkward moments, which it's two main stars can almost pull off, but not to the level of Michael Cera. Seth Green's small supporting role as the sarcastic Amish gent was pretty great. B

Metropolis (1927)
"The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart."
In Metropolis, the metaphorical head is the capitalists, and the hands the work force. There's not much left to say about Metropolis, the classic silent film whose characters became archetypes and setting became a genre. It was special viewing Metropolis, the patriarch of my favorite genre - the dystopian sci-fi future - for the first time this week. And it's even more special and rare to see a film so old it doesn't borrow from wither Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World.

The film takes place in the year 2027 (I think), and the set designs and mural backdrops are jaw-dropping depictions of an imagined future, both informed by the art deco skyscrapers in vogue at the time and the industrial steam-and-steel that ground the proletariat to shreds. I won't get into detailed plot mechanics, but it involves a capitalist who has a robot created to lead the proletariat on a rebellion that he can then justifiable respond to with violence to re-assert his dominance. The capitalist's son, who tries to mediate between the "head" and the "hands" is the main character. The modernized class struggles born by the industrial revolution that defined so many political theories of the 20th century drive the dynamics here, and the fact that those class struggles still define our western democracy today is frightening.

The camera work, special affects and creativity, blended with the previously mentioned future-city design are an accomplishment for any decade, let alone the 1920s. You can see Metropolis's influence in Tim Burton's style, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Alex Proyas' Dark City, and every piece of science fiction today. All this gushing is not to hide the fact that yeah, it's a silent film made in the '20s, and must be appreciated as such. It isn't an edge-of-your-seater, but something to be appreciated. A

Quantum of Solace (2008) - This was tedious. It had a really hard time keeping my attention, the conspiracy was mundane and the villain not entirely hateable, nor complex. The action scenes were cut so fast that coherence wasn't a requirement, and the hotties managed to be dull despite obvious good looks. Oh, and it's about fucking water, I think ... D+

Re-Animator (1985) - Re-Animator is a self-aware B-movie where two medical students develop a serum to revive the dead, and violence ensues. Netflix summarized it as a "campy send up." Light-hearted over-the-top gore is always welcome, but this dragged a little bit, and it wasn't always as tongue-in-cheek funny as it thought it was. On the other hand, serum-induced zombies are pretty bad ass. C+

Intolerable Cruelty (2003) - The Coen brothers (Fargo, No Country ...) are my favorite contemporary filmmakers. So, for some time I avoided seeing Intolerable Cruelty because of its reputation as their only foray into more conventional Hollywood fare, with less eccentric story telling, etc. I didn't know who I was kidding, of course even a Coen brothers "Hollywood" flick would still feature their instantly recognizable style. It did actually retain much of the dark wit, and, ahem, cruelty perpetrated by their trademark moronic (and oblivious) characters. I'm not gonna ramble, but I will say this isn't my least favorite Coen brothers movie, that title belongs to the only film of theirs I can't stand - The Ladykillers. B


The Juice Box said...

I just saw Sex Drive, too. I thought it was a surprisingly good comedy.

Professor Film said...

"Synecdoche, New York" is one of those films where I feel like it's trying too hard to be something "unique" and "special," but I can't deny that by film's end I had grown an emotional attachment to it, so much so that I ended up watching the first half hour again immediately after it ended and picked up on several clues to the rest of the film that completely byspassed me the first time. I had to stop watching it again due to time constraints, but I have a feeling it gets better and better the more you watch it. Great review, by the way, spot-on.

Warped Coasters said...

"Synecdoche, New York" SEMI-SPOILERS::

does it provide any clues to his mysterious physical ailments, or shed light on what actually happened to his daughter?

I agree that it definitely felt more forced that Kaufman's other work.