Friday, November 28, 2008

Release on the Horizon

With most of the major 2008 releases now in stores (including the long-awaited Chinese Democracy, which is definitely on my radar), it is time to start looking forward to the releases coming in 2009. As Cities Burn, mewithoutyou, Fiction Family (Jon Foreman side project), Mute Math (check out the new song "Spotlight" off the Twilight soundtrack!), and Switchfoot are among my eagerly anticipated (although some only rumoured) releases of next year, but the one that tops my list is U2's next album, which is tentatively titled No Line on the Horizon. The band has been working again with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and this interview with Edge only makes me want to hear it more.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: Synecdoche, New York

"Eschew obfuscation" - words of wisdom to remind writers to forego making writing overly complex and to keep things as simple as possible. Charlie Kaufman must have missed that lesson. All of his films feature some kind of warping of the mind, and all of them hang on some sort of conceit that is unpacked throughout the film that, though initially difficult to understand, is a key component to entering into his twisted world. With his history of writing, one would expect that his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, would feature an accelerated sense of this mindbending style because there is no director to balance out Kaufman's mania. One would be right - this film is more involved, more twisted, and more introspective than any of Kaufman's previous films, which is precisely why it works so well.
On the surface, the film is about a middle-aged theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who proves yet again why he is perhaps the best actor of this generation) who is given a grant to create a work of art. He chooses to focus on creating a replica of his life, which features a rotating cast of women, an unhealthy fixation on death, a deteriorating nervous system, an estranged daughter, and many labyrinthine contemplations on life. Below the surface, this is Kaufman's projection of anxiety over life, love, death, reality, art, faith, medicine, calling, purpose, and value. Does Kaufman attempt to answer any of these issues? Indirectly, I suppose, but it is in the asking that they find their significance, and that Caden finds his.
This is a film that is full of metaphor and imagery, unlike almost any other film I have seen. And it is not easy imagery, either; this is a difficult film to understand. To begin unpacking it is an exercise in Graduate English studies, and one gets the sense that there are few - likely including Kaufman - who fully grasp everything that the film is saying and doing. It does not have a "point", per se, because, like life, it has many points, and there are many truths presented. Part of the brilliance of Kaufman is that he manages to leave so much up to the interpretation of the viewer without becoming relativistic. His films are more like prisms through which light shines in many ways than a light bulb which allows for one type of illumination; both let you see, but the prism is far more engaging and beautiful.
This brings me to a very significant point. Some critics, like EW's often sophmoric Owen Glieberman, discounted this film because it is difficult (This is the same reviewer who labelled Epic Movie as "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Serious credibility issues there). They are denouncing it as labyrinthine, self-involved, and obscure, and counting that as a reason for not watching it. Of course it is labyrinthine and involved - it's Kaufman! Kaufman is not easy, and he never will be, nor should he be. His films are difficult, but that should not detract from evaluating the film. The question to ask is whether the film accomplishes what it set out to do in a way that is engaging, fresh, visually appealing, well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and innovative. The answer to all of these questions is yes - Kaufman has brought to life a difficult conceit, and he directs Hoffman through the maze in mesmerizing form. This film is brilliant, and it explores all of the issues of life through the life of one man who stands as a synecdoche for us all. Even Owen Gleiberman, who would seem content to not even try.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Human or danser?

The Killers have a lot going against them. Brandon Flowers has little stage presence. At the worst, the music descends into the depths of synthesizer hell. And sometimes the lyrics are painful prose. The latest offender is the new lead single, "Human", which features the lyric, "are we human, or are we danser?" - both a rhetorical and grammatical travesty. And I checked, and that is the lyric. And despite all of these shortcomings, I am excited about the new album, Day and Age, which releases on Tuesday. They truly are my guilty pleasure. And for your pleasure, this is their recent performance of that song from the European Music Awards. Enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movies in November and December

The regular bi-monthly media update is here with my movies to watch for in the next two months. As usual, November and December are extra busy, what with all of the award contenders coming up, so it's a good thing that January and February provide ample time for catching up. Of course, I missed out on a couple of movies from October (Passchendaele, Synecdoche, New York), so I've got a bit of a backlog, but here are the ten movies coming out in the next six weeks that I am hoping to watch.

Quantum of Solace - New Bond. 'Nuff said.
Australia (Nov. 26) - Baz Luhrmann's first film since 2001's Moulin Rouge should be worth the wait.
Happy-Go-Lucky - Mike Leigh's movie about Poppy, an ever-pleasant primary school teacher, has been generating a lot of buzz.
Slumdog Millionaire - Call it Boyle meets Bollywood or Trainspotting in India; however you identify it, it looks really good.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Dec. 12) - Scott Derrickson's revisioning of the 50s sci-fi classic could be really good...or really Keanu. I'm not sure how it will turn out, and that's half the fun.
The Brothers Bloom (Dec. 19) - Rian Johnson directs Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo in a millionaire-thief-caper-heist movie. It could be fun.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec. 25) - David Fincher and Brad Pitt are back together in this adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story about how a man grows younger as he ages. It will be trippy if nothing else.
Valkyrie (Dec. 26), Defiance (Dec. 31) - Two movies about real events in WWII. The former, directed by Bryan Singer, tells the story of a plot to kill Hitler; the latter, directed by war-movie veteran Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), tells the story of three Polish brothers who defied the Nazis. Singer's movie could be overly jingoistic and Zwick's might be overwrought, but they will both likely feature at least one memorable performance and some amazing camera work.

Also on the radar: Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road, which pairs Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet again.

P.S. - My Early Best Picture nominees prediction: Australia, Defiance, Valkyrie, Happy-Go-Lucky, Slumdog Millionaire.

AFI Top 100

In season 1 of "30 Rock", Pete and Liz decide to start watching through the American Film Institute's Top 100 films of all time; they get stuck because they only own Tootsie and Star Wars, but the sentiment was there. After watching that episode, I went back to look at how many of the top 100 films I had seen, and I was astonished. Of the 121 films included on the original list or on the revised list, I had seen only about 20. I have since watched a few more, but as a "movie guy" and "pop culture enthusiast", I am ashamed to admit that I have 93 of these films yet to see. (I do realize the possible logical fallacy I am committing in subscribing to this authority, but this list is fairly comprehensive, and it's the best list I could find.) So in an effort to continue to expand my horizons, as well as to eliminate the gaps in my knowledge, I am embarking on a journey to attempt to watch all of the films remaining on my list by the end of 2010. Two years, 93 movies...I think I can do it. I will post some comments or thoughts on each film on the blog as I view it. In the past month, I have watched the audacious Hollywood musical Singin' in the Rain, the witty and acerbic romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story, and the deliciously dark and devious mystery The Third Man. I am thoroughly enjoying my project so far, and it will be an interesting couple of years.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama the orator

It has only been a day since the American election was decided, but I am decidedly optimistic about the future of the United States under President Obama. I am not ready to canonize St. Obama yet, but I think that his election to the presidency is and will be a significant historical marker for this generation and decades to come. I also believe that he is the first true statesman to be elected President since JFK (I know Bill Clinton had his folksy charm, but a lot of his stature came through his time in office), and that there is a strong possibility that Obama will be remembered as one of the great orators of this generation. Like the leaders of the sixties (JFK, RFK, MLK), he has a sense of purpose and vision behind his words that belies a much greater spirit. I remember that I first saw Obama speaking on The Daily Show shortly after his election to the Senate in 2004, and seeing him not only keep up but outdo Jon Stewart in jokes in an interview; that kind of sharp wit and quick tongue demonstrates not only his appeal but his ability to wield the word. It is ironic that much of his campaign was reduced to three words ("Yes, we can!") when he seems to be an eloquent speaker, but now we have four years to see what kind of lexicon Obama can manipulate. Perhaps his orations will even outdo to contributions to society's speech from the outgoing President - though there will likely be far fewer malapropisms - unless I'm misunderestimating Obama.

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