Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kauffman, 2008) – the ambitious and fragmented new Charlie Kauffman movie was one of the last “big” films from 2008 I still hadn’t seen. Overall a rewarding, though rather tough watch, Charlie Kauffman shows the story of a stage director (Philip Seymour Hoffman, I’m not a fan, but God knows I’ve seen him do this sort of stuff better before) trying to put some sort of larger than life itself “life-replica” of his own life, aswell as others’ for decades of his life (money never seems to be an issue :S), how his attempt at portraying life as realistically as possible affects his own and his relationships with women: Catherine Kenner, being her usual wonderful self, but stuck in one note, Hope Davis, (legs!), Samantha Morton (that voice!), Emily Watson (boobs!), Michelle Williams (hair!), Dianne Wiest (I love her) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (egh) and some child actress playing his daughter. It’s not a film that’s easy to explain, and I can see how its guts and ambition might turn so many film buffs on, but cinematically, its cold philosophical approaches on certain things can turn into quite a dry experience at times, though yeah, the result at times is quite overwhelming (that ending!) and the feeling is as if you’re watching something quite deep – and it might just be. Anyway, lots of admire in this one, but it’s not an easy watch by any means. Rating: B.
Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945) – Gene Tierney (see: the most gorgeous thing to ever live) plays Ellen Berent, a woman obsessed with keeping her man (Cornel Wilde) to herself and no one else, and that will go to extremes in order to keep it that way =/. I know that sounded odd and melodramatic, but that’s basically the set up (and also some of the best adjectives there are to describe the film). It starts very interestingly, before Tierney’s last evil act the melodrama is kind of kept to a minimum, but it is in this last chunk of the film that one starts seeing all the flaws in the screenplay (not gonna go into details to avoid spoiling anything). As for the performances, it’s all Tierney’s film. Cornel Wilde is asked to do nothing with his role, and in the scene in which he confronts Tierney, his acting choices basically come off as flat and after seeing Jeanne Crain in A Letter to Three Wives before, really enjoyed her in that and being excited about her presence once I knew she was in the film, overall came off as disappointing. But again, it’s Tierney who shines here, and after this, I’ll never understand all the “pretty face with limited talent” descriptions I’ve read about her all this time. With dazzling subtle skills and utilizing her looks in the most effective ways she inhabits this horrible monster of a character, and avoids every stereotype that the screenplay sets on her way like a true pro. Another aspect worth mentioning about the film is the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography. I saw this Film on YouTube, and even by seeing it in that cut format I was more than once taken away by the beauty of some of the shots, with its beautiful use of that painfully bright red so characteristic of the first color movies and its not missing any opportunity to look sprawling despite the film being anything but. Rating: C
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972), Werner Herzog, whose films like Encounters at the End of the World, Nosferatu and Grizzly Man I’ve loved in the past, directs this film starring Klaus Kinski as Aguirre, second man in charge of an expedition that sets off from the mountains of Peru to the Amazon jungle in order to start the conquest for El Dorado. As Don Pizarro, first man under command, after much difficulty during the expedition, suggests the possibility of going back, while selecting a new group of men to continue the quest, Aguirre sets a rebellion against Pizarro in order to continue the expedition without looking back, thus putting himself into the Hall of Fame of the Biggest Douchebags in the History of Motion Picture. The whole plot (there’s lots of misery going on there and no redeeming: decapitations, starvation, cannibalism, a little incest, and so on) could turn into something grotesque and completely dreary that leads to nothing and says nothing (just like Aguirre’s little adventure itself), but thanks to Herzog and Kinski this is an intensely interesting watch: an intelligent, unique, imaginative yet quite truthful portray of obsessive ambition, thirst of power and well, the flat out delusion that comes with it all without in any way Herzog’s vision being easily affected in the least by it. Rating: B+
Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959), despite the fact that I have never seen any of those quite popular at the time British “kitchen sink dramas”, or British New Wave, or whatever you call it (I understand that they’re probably two entirely different things. Whatever, you catch my driftJ), I’ve always been very interested into watching them and quite drawn into digging this whole movement to see what the fuss is about, especially this one (it looked like something I’d really really like), even if I’d never heard any specific praise about it. Plot’s basically Laurence Harvey, plays a socially discontent man, who in ambition to climb the ladder of society starts seducing a wealthy factory owner’s daughter (played by Heather Sears), while falling in love with a married, older, humbler French actress (Simone Signoret). The whole love triangle plays in a very misogynist way, what with all the leading character’s indifference into just choosing one of these women, except until he is basically coerced into one of them by an outside force. For this whole approach and the whole social climbing aspect (which I actually thought it was handled very nicely) the film could be very well considered to be dated, but… I like old school. The film was definitely beloved at the time, even inspiring a sequel and a short lived TV series, and at times one can definitely see why. And the plot could very easily just fall into melodramatic ground, but it doesn’t, and the scenes shared by Harvey (who I’ve finally seen in a role I think fits him like a glove, after being bored to death by him from seeing him in Darling and BUtterfield 8) and Signoret (subtle, committed and often luminous. Her “people at the top” monologue near the end is just powerful and haunting, yet subtle and quiet) are beyond romantic and simply elegantly shot. Overall, a nice little British drama I’d definitely recommend for those into them, not without its flaws, but certainly a nice way to spend two hours. Rating: B
Reviews for The Damned and Watchmen coming up tomorrow