Sydnecdoche, New York reviews

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Postby FilmFan720 » Tue Mar 24, 2009 3:56 pm

I finally caught up with this. It is certainly one of the most interesting films of last year, but I am not sure if it is at all successful. I agree with dws that the moment the green poo conversation came on I cringed. That cringing carried me through about the first half hour, with a lot of colored feces issues and that damned burning house that reek of pretentious independent filmmaking.

Then, about halfway through, the film moves into the warehouse and Hoffman's obsession with his play that the film really becomes something of a masterpiece. Hoffman is wonderful in the role (it is one of the best-fitting roles he has had in a while, probably since Almost Famous) and the rest of the ensemble really gels together here. Perhaps more important, though, Kaufman reigns himself in and focuses the film down to a more solid theme. It all starts to make more sense, and what doesn't seems more in place because things are supposed to be weird. Flipp is right that Weist brings a wonderful prestige to the film, but Tom Noonan is the one who really shines here. I never would have expected this performance from him, and he is phenomenally heart-breaking.
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Postby Sabin » Tue Mar 24, 2009 1:32 pm

Did you mean to say Keener's "arc"? I think she's supposed to just be absent, to register strongly in the first act and then we're duped into hoping for more.

It has risen in my estimation. This is the greatest film of the past few years that quite a bit of the time doesn't entirely work. I'm moving past my preconceived notions that a film needs to be perfect from scene-to-scene. A movie like Magnolia is fairly perfectly calculated visually but that's somewhat boring. Synecdoche, New York is the work of someone clearing out his mental cobwebs and (for one like Kaufman) it gets a bit messy. The house perennially aflame doesn't work for me at all. Several cryptic references to Caden's homosexuality feel tacked on and the product of an author looking to make himself suffer, although I loved the note he gave to Williams about thinking she might be gay. In addition, Tom Noonan gave the best performance last year that made you desperately hunger for more of. I'd also include Jennifer Jason Leigh in that lineup. Her German accent is hilarious.

You mention accessibility. All of his previous films use abstract fantasies to mine direct concepts. Synecdoche is his first ambiguous film. I have my interpretations, but there are entire passages I'm not sure what to make of.
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Postby flipp525 » Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:39 am

While I don't think it's quite the masterpiece Sabin has elevated it to (the film has really risen in your estimation, hasn't it?) I think there's definitely a lot of interesting themes running through Synecdoche, New York and, even more importantly, some great performances. Philip Seymour Hoffman fits into the role of Caden like the proverbial glove and I think this might be some of Samantha Morton's best work. It confounds me that she was virtually ignored during the awards season -- she's certainly much better in this than she was in such fare as In America for which she was nominated. Catherine Keener phones it in, yet I was rather fascinated by her character's art. Emily Watson succeeds with a difficult role and Dianne Wiest, while nothing revelatory, adds a prestige to her character that made it grand. Even the talented Robin Weigert ("Deadwood") absolutely shined in her one scene. I can't really begrudge a filmmaker who creates that many multi-faceted roles for woman (or was it really one role with each facet being played by a separate actress? Hmmm...)

Past Kaufman exploits just felt a bit more accessible to me: Being John Malkovich had a unique premise that never dipped into alienation. The audience cared about the plight of John Cusack's character because who hasn't literally wanted to walk in someone else's shoes for a day before? As much as they were surrounded by such abject quirkiness, the characters seemed real and, therefore, the wacky premise almost seemed plausible.

There are only about eight stories that a storyteller can tell and Adaptation managed to tell one I'd never heard before. Or told all eight at the same time. Or something. That, not Synecdoche, is the apex of his screenwriting efforts for me. To swim alongside one's own creative process in such a revealing way, yet, at the same time, to be true to the source material you are supposedly adapting (for I think the essence of what Susan Orlean is doing in The Orchid Theif is very much captured in Adaptation). It was an audacious effort that succeeded from the writing to the directing to the beautiful performances (Streep's best work of the '00's and maybe one of her top performances ever.)

I'm a big fan of the playwright Nicky Silver, and any attempt toward portraying the absurd, I'll always appreciate, even if it fails. When Synecdoche dipped into the morass of Kaufman's fugue-like malaise, things started dripping off the canvas for me and it was hard to keep a through-line. What makes me keep coming back to this film is the fact that its as grand an endeavor as the very character at its heart and manages to pull off quite a bit of it. The scene of the now-rat infested apartment set towards the end of the movie broke my heart. I'm not sure there was a more poignant vision of the cobwebs of the past invading memory than that in any other film this year. I only saw it once in the theater. It's certainly worth a second look.

And if "Little Person" doesn't absolutely exemplify what a 'Best Original Song' is supposed to, I simply don't understand the category.




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Postby Okri » Tue Mar 24, 2009 7:13 am

Sabin wrote:Forgive me, Okri: what moment are you referring to?

It's nearing the end and a minor character gives a speech (at a funeral/wake?) that repeats the invocation "and the truth is." It's the only human moment in this grotesquerie of a film.

I'm a little surprised to see Rachel Getting Married brought up, because in every way, it's this film's opposite.

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Postby Sabin » Tue Mar 24, 2009 2:59 am

I just re-watched it again with one of my roommates. His response was astonishment, reflection of brilliance, and the desire to watch it again immediately. It's very clear to me that Kaufman's Brechtian execution is as irregular as Caden's bowel movements and that the film may very well be a synecdoche itself, something found in the editing room in lieu of a larger whole (Kaufman mentions that there were 204 scenes in the film!), but what we see is to me a impossibly moving reflection on mortality, like metaphysical Yom Kippur. Then again by likening it to metaphysical Yom Kippur both at all and in the positive, I've probably announced a specific niche that will enjoy it. This is Philip Seymour Hoffman's best performance.

On another note, my mother and father just watched Eternal Sunshine... after years of nagging and felt that it was a depressing film that they hated in every way and have no idea why I think it's the best movie of the decade. I asked how a movie that says we must fail at love to succeed at love can be depressing, or at least rooted in delicious weltschmerz. As I write this, I watch an interview with Charlie Kaufman at Cannes and my God is this man about to fly off the planet.
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Postby Sabin » Mon Mar 23, 2009 10:13 pm

Forgive me, Okri: what moment are you referring to?
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby Mister Tee » Sat Mar 21, 2009 1:49 pm

I don't have time for a full response right now, but I'll bite the bullet and say it's one of the few movies from '08 that I liked more than anticipated (granted, I was set up to hate and/or be addled by it). It's definitely Charlie Kaufman's attempt at 8 1/2, and, while its life-views can get banal near the end, and the whole thing lacks a spark of fun I usually associate with Kaufman's work (even seemingly-meant-as-jokes details like the burning house don't really register as funny), I found the piece on the whole affecting and appealingly ambitious.

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Postby Eric » Sun Mar 15, 2009 1:52 pm

Rachel Getting Married probably just hit a little too close to home for some of us here on the highly insular UAADB.

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Postby Big Magilla » Sun Mar 15, 2009 12:24 pm

Let's put it this way. Rachel Getting Married is the worst movie of the decade by a once great director. Synecdoche, New York is the best movie of the decade by an over-indulged writer now being indulged as a director.

The former is shockingly bad, the latter is surprisingly not awful.
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Postby Okri » Sun Mar 15, 2009 11:47 am

I actually like Kauffman's films pretty much absolutely. Like Sabin, Eternal Sunshine is on my all time list. I don't think I've turned against a director/writer like that before. I think the most telling thing about it was that my favourite moment ("And the truth is") was one Kauffman was forced to put in there - he himself hates it.

Wiest is nothing special - the supporting cast is generally solid, but not really able to breakthrough in any way.




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Postby Damien » Sun Mar 15, 2009 9:41 am

dws1982 wrote:But I thought Synechoche, New York was much, much worse. I probably should've followed my gut instinct and not bothered, and I knew I shouldn't have about five minutes in when Hoffman/Kenner's daughter asks, "Is my poo green?"

And it wasn't nominated for Best Original Screenplay??? :D




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Postby dws1982 » Sun Mar 15, 2009 9:34 am

Sabin wrote:It's possible that Damien would consider this this worst film he's ever seen. I'm actually not joking.

Oh I think it could absolutely supplant Rachel Getting Married as his worst film of the decade. As an overall fan of Demme's fiction films, who likes Beloved and The Manchurian Candidate the best, I was pretty disappointed with Rachel Getting Married. But I don't know that I ever could have liked it since it's part of that "dysfunctionals sit around and argue" genre, which I'm predisposed to dislike.

But I thought Synechoche, New York was much, much worse. I probably should've followed my gut instinct and not bothered, and I knew I shouldn't have about five minutes in when Hoffman/Kenner's daughter asks, "Is my poo green?"

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Postby Sabin » Sun Mar 15, 2009 3:06 am

It's possible that Damien would consider this this worst film he's ever seen. I'm actually not joking.

When I first saw Synecdoche, I found it incredibly compelling, quite long, and frustrating because I didn't know if what it was saying was worth saying in the first place. I viewed it again, and I'm fairly convinced it's some kind of masterpiece, albeit the kind of masturbatory one that a lot of people will have no use for.
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Postby Big Magilla » Sun Mar 15, 2009 1:15 am

Wiest is good, but Morton and Watson are better and Hoffman who I usually either find OK or annoying as hell is really quite good here.

It's really an old man's movie which is a little strange considering Kaufman is only 50 but all his movies are strange.

The film is about death. Practically everyone in his life dies, and then he (as impersonated by Hoffman) dies.

I's a good movie for old people to watch, too. Everything is repeated so you can doze off, wake up and be able to figure out what you've missed without too much effort.
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Postby Eric » Sun Mar 15, 2009 1:06 am

I understand Dianne Wiest is fantastic in it, so this is probably one of the few remaining '08 films I'll no doubt try to catch on video.


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