Synecdoche, New York: Like The Burning Plain, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut showcases a screenwriter who, freed from the influence of collaborators, indulges all his thematic quirks like a dieting matron lunging at a box of bonbons. Whereas Guillermo Arriaga overdoses in piety, self-fondling morbidity proves to be Kaufman’s choice of drug from the moment the filmmaker’s avatar, a playwright named Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman), announces, “I think I’m dying.” The opening 40 minutes or so, as Hoffman’s slumped sad-sack is abandoned by his wife (Catherine Keener) and fumbles with a box-office worker (Samantha Morton), are promising despite the militant moroseness that plagues even the film’s most whimsical flights of fancy. But when the Chinese boxes start to proliferate—Caden turns his life into a crumbling theatrical show, complete with lookalike performers—the viewer is reminded of what dead-ends brilliant screenwriting conceits can be when left by themselves on the screen. Kaufman may see Caden’s rants (“I won’t settle for anything less than the brutal truth”) as confessional, but in the context of what is arguably cinema’s least joyous depiction of an artistic mind at work, a shot of the character looking for blood in his stools seems more telling.
Neil Genzlinger (#1–10 of 3)
1. ”The Big Chill: These Are Your Parents.” Lena Dunham on the Lawrence Kasdan film.
“You will grow up with certain friends who have been chosen for you purely because your parents don’t mind sitting in lawn chairs next to their parents, can find something to talk about. Sometimes your mother will even see the other mothers socially, put on a bunch of gold rings and spray perfume in her henna-red hair and head out the door to meet them at ten past seven for a glass of wine. But you will know the difference between those friends and these old friends, these primal friends, these friends as entrenched as bone. You will know the difference even though you can’t articulate it. You will just know that when they get together, whenever that is, the cadence of their speech changes, their laughs go up a register, they throw their heads back and shake their hair and that laughter comes unbidden, and at surprising times, and about things you don’t think are funny. The laughter is catching, and soon the guys are laughing too, outside by the grill, ignoring their kids and letting the laughter move them. Their eyes soften and their foreheads smooth. They look like old photos.”
Can the bulldog be saved?
The New York Times lists the 100 notable books of 2011.
Rolling Stone picks the greatest guitarists of all time.
A law firm that had become a lightning rod in the controversy over mortgage-foreclosure practices has shut down, costing 89 employees their jobs.