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Synecdoche New York (#110 of 8)

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Tim Peters’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tim Peters’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tim Peters’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In the interest of iconoclasm, and of pointing one’s critical finger at great movies that were created, you know, sometime after the 1970s, what follows is an alphabetically-arranged list of what this reviewer thinks are world-historically worthwhile films produced after 1986, the year of his birth. The standards of judgment that these movies were able to so spectacularly and consistently surpass are the standards of a person who is, well, in his mid-20s, and who is agitated and restless and frequently lonesome. Those standards involve, more cinematically-speaking, the intensity of the movie; the intelligence of the movie; its willingness to admit that life is often disappointing, drab, and deceptive; and a preference for protagonists who are struggling to resist the rather deadening expectations of the society in which they’ve found themselves living. Given the quantity of critical cinematic verbiage that’s emanated forth on the Internet prior to, and in the wake of, the release of the 2012 Sight & Sound Top 10 list, this reviewer will say no more, but merely and humbly direct your attention to the list he’s provided.

Sucker Punch and the Fetishized Image

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<em>Sucker Punch</em> and the Fetishized Image
<em>Sucker Punch</em> and the Fetishized Image

Sucker Punch has received widespread dismissal from film critics, many of whom have used their reviews as opportunities to crack jokes about teenage boys, masturbation, or masturbating teenage boys—or to make puns about the film’s title. A.O. Scott at The New York Times slammed the film’s “pretense that this fantasia of misogyny is really a feminist fable of empowerment,” while Sady Doyle at The Atlantic declared that director “Zack Snyder’s gooey mix of fetish gear, rape fantasies, and girls-with-guns action sequences represents the nadir of a long, slow, steady decline in action films starring women.”

This critical paroxysm against Sucker Punch is quite possibly the most colossal collective misreading of satire since Paul Verhoeven was accused of being a fascist for Starship Troopers. With this film, critics are making the same mistake of confusing depiction for endorsement, but more importantly, they seem continually befuddled by Snyder’s manipulation of one of the most powerful cornerstones of mainstream cinema—the fetishized image.

Realists and Philosopher Kings: The Quiet Truths of Happy-Go-Lucky

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Realists and Philosopher Kings: The Quiet Truths of <em>Happy-Go-Lucky</em>
Realists and Philosopher Kings: The Quiet Truths of <em>Happy-Go-Lucky</em>

This week’s DVD releases include Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, perhaps my favorite film of last year, and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, another film I found pretty damn great. A comparison between the two, though, reveals just why Happy succeeds where Synecdoche can never quite take wing.

In Happy-Go-Lucky’s opening scene, Poppy (Sally Hawkins) enters a used bookstore and immediately pulls a book titled The Road to Reality off the shelf. “Don’t wanna be going there,” Poppy says as she puts the book back. So we are introduced to a character it seems so many viewers are preconditioned to despise: the whimsical and quirky space cadet, uninterested in harsh reality lest it encroach upon her naïve enjoyment of life.

Poppy is overly extroverted and far too nice, the type of person we resent and pity all at once—resent because she stumbles obliviously into a happiness that eludes us and pity because such naïve happiness must be in some way a façade, ultimately empty because it has not been tempered by an honest reflection upon ’reality’. In short, she’s annoying.

HND@Grassroots: Season 2, Episode 6 (24), "Waiting for Jürgen"

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HND@Grassroots: Season 2, Episode 6 (24), “Waiting for Jürgen”
HND@Grassroots: Season 2, Episode 6 (24), “Waiting for Jürgen”

Hello and welcome again faithful The Futurist! and other Non-Listeners!

A bit of a cautionary tale for this episode. See, we normally make sure that everyone invited knows when and where to show up (i.e. nightly and to Grassroots). Jürgen Fauth (Muckworld, About.com and I Drink Your Milkshake) was supposed to be our guest for this episode, to talk New York Film Festival and other such things.

But then we forgot to remind him.

And then we forgot to confirm with him.

And then, and then—we forgot we didn’t have his phone number. Until roughly 7:30 pm at Grassroots.

Lo, this episode we forgo all as Vadim takes the time to have another “Emily Gould” moment, to pontificate on CMJ Music Marathon, to report on David Foster Wallace’s Memorial Service at NYU, and other things. This of course leads us to Synecdoche, New York. Keith and Vadim both have rather differing opinions on it—but Vadim sides a bit more with our friend Filmbrain—and we then don’t talk about W.

Why? Who knows!

So consider this a lesson in podcast ethics. And if you see either Vadim or me at the bar, buy us a drink! Or get us jobs at The Onion. We hear they’re hiring. John Lichman

 

Understanding Screenwriting #10: Synecdoche, New York, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #10: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #10: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Synecdoche, New York; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist; The Rape of Europa; Elizabeth:The Golden Age; Till the End of Time; 30 Rock; ER; Desperate Housewives; Mad Men, but first…

Fan Mail: Maura had the same problem with the character of Sidney in Rachel Getting Married that I did. Here are some of the reasons why. After I wrote the item on the film, I came across an interview with the director Jonathan Demme in which he talked about how the actors were allowed to improvise. Generally one should discount by 10% any claim by directors or actors that they improvised, and also realize that usually the worst scenes in a movie are those that actors are improvising in. Demme mentioned that he originally wanted Paul Thomas Anderson to play Sidney, but Anderson was busy directing There Will Be Blood. The character and his family were not originally written as black and while it might be considered a very liberal thing not to mention it at all in the film, it is also not particularly realistic and, as in this case, robs the characters of texture and depth.

Theoldboy took me to task for not mentioning Dennis Hopper’s long monologue at the opening of the Crash pilot. As I said in my first column, I am going wide, not deep, so there will be aspects of the scripts that will be left out. But I figure part of what I am doing here is trying to get you thinking about the writing of films and televisions shows, which I obviously did in theoldboy’s case. Yeah for me.

Toronto International Film Festival 2008: Synecdoche, New York, Gomorrah, & Ashes of Time Redux

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Toronto International Film Festival 2008: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Gomorrah</em>, & <em>Ashes of Time Redux</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2008: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Gomorrah</em>, & <em>Ashes of Time Redux</em>

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.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Synecdoche, New York, Il Divo, & Palermo Shooting

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Il Divo</em>, & <em>Palermo Shooting</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Synecdoche, New York</em>, <em>Il Divo</em>, & <em>Palermo Shooting</em>

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman). It doesn’t matter how big a Kaufman devotee you are, how many times you’ve seen Being John Malkovich or Adaptation. or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It doesn’t matter what you’ve read or heard about Synecdoche, New York, his directorial debut, because nothing could possibly prepare you for the overwhelming mindfuckery on display. It is easily Kaufman’s most ambitious project, which means that it is easily one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. The role of the artist in society; coming to terms with death, God and fate; and the importance of escaping from the trap of solipsism in order to connect with others are among the most prominent themes, but they are far from the only ones. The sheer depth and complexity of the ideas Kaufman is out to explore here is mind-boggling.

Obviously, Synecdoche, New York is not an easy film, or a clean one. The first twenty minutes or so are relatively straight-forward, all things considered, as they detail the day-to-day life of a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener). When Caden’s health begins to deteriorate in strange and grotesque ways (the possibilities of these sicknesses being all in his head or being meant as a literalization of his fear of death seem quite likely), Adele takes his daughter to Berlin for a week-long trip. They never come home, and as the film becomes increasingly focused on Caden’s mental state, things like temporal and narrative cohesion start to feel like a distant memory.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions
Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions

What a long, strange week it’s been. My first visit to the Cannes Film Festival was one of the greatest experiences of my life, but also one of the most surreal. For those who haven’t experienced it, it’s almost impossible to explain the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion that comes from rushing from theater to theater, from movie to movie; from attempting to engage fully with each film you see while running on four hours of sleep and at most two meals a day. The emotional extremes are tiring. You can go from the red carpet, certain in your belief that your life will never get any better, to furious three hours later because the panini stand put mustard on your sandwich when you specifically asked them not to. Any little thing can send you spiraling from joy to despair and back again. Such is the nature of Cannes; even when you hate it, you fucking love it.