Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Winnipeg

w/d Guy Maddin

Another oddball classic from Canada's resident filmic auteur. This is one of his most accessible works, filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and a couple of flat-out lies. It purports to be autobiographical but it's anyone's guess whether or not anything here really happened.

This guy's secured a place in cinema history with Careful, and especially Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary.  His singular vision, combining silent-era technique with post-modern irony has created a category of one that is a blessing to film lovers world wide.

The segment here with the horses is one of the most unforgettable images in film history. Is it true? I don't want to know. True or not, it's genius.


Louise Bourgeois


This was a fascinating piece on an amazingly talented, visionary sculptor. She has an appealing manner,  helped some by a charming French accent, but is obviously tormented by demons from her childhood. 

It's been said that the greatest art has its roots in emotional turmoil, that the swirl of passion is the crucible out of which insight emerges. Who knows? It seems to be the case here.

I hope this film brings her work to a larger audience.


Monday, December 29, 2008



A feelgood film in the Big Game genre. 6 blind Tibetans are led, carefully, to the Advance Base Camp on Everest and back. 

They are ostracized by their communities because the barbaric concept of karma tells their fellows that they are blind because of misdeeds they must have committed in a "former life." So they probably deserve it. 

Who makes this stuff up? This culture is one of the cruelest on the planet (see Michael Parenti...Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth) but somehow has captured the warm huggies of the rich Hollywood elite and is looked upon here with benign paternalism.

It's impossible not to feel sympathy for these poor young people. Doubly handicapped, it's hard to see a good future for them. Their courage here was moving and inspirational. But how do you tell teenagers that their only hope for a decent life is to leave their homes and families, make their way to the West and try to start a new life? 

Life isn't fair.


1000 Years of Good Prayers

w/d  Wayne Wang

Nice, focused domestic melodrama. A Chinese man, educated and urbane, comes to stay with his grown daughter who has been living in Spokane, Washington. Slowly subterranean conflicts surface. Meanwhile he connects, improbably, with an Iranian woman his age. They have no language in common but their shared isolation in this strange land allows them to come together.

Nothing is really resolved here. After an emotional scene, he leaves, leaving us with the sense of having witnessed  just another incident in their two lives, albeit one with emotional residue. Cross-cultural issues are left present but understated...another plus. 

The whole thing was under-played. Good work all around.


Trouble the Water


This film dealt with the effect of Hurricane Katrina on some lower class residents of New Orleans. One of them buys a $20 video camera just before the storm hits and gets some before and during footage. These people later hook up with some professional filmmakers who return with them and record the aftermath  of the storm on their lives.

The main problem for me was the main character, a loud, motor-mouthed ex junkie who talked and talked and eventually drove me right out of the theater. Her filmmaking technique was very poor...constant camera movement and zoom-panning. Gave me a headache.

The storm footage was interesting but very brief. The rest of the film paled beside Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke.



A very primitive film. Spectacular location work among the Andean native peoples. Minimal plot. Native players (non-actors). We follow a small group of people around who live on a salt flat, gather and dry the salt and once a year travel around trading it for whatever. 

Interesting as anthropology but not as film.


The Black Stallion

Mickey Rooney  d/ Carroll Ballard

A wonderful film. The first 40 minutes are as beautiful and well worked out as anything in film history. The slow bonding of horse and boy stranded on a desert island is exquisitely rendered here with many, many stunning shots. 

After the action moves to civilization the story morphs into a Big Game saga but even that is so well done that I was willing to forgive and just sink into it. It was a fairy tale with a rousing climax.

Much use of long lens throughout which gave a sense on compression, massiveness and immediacy. Also, great use of sound to enhance the total sensory experience.

One of the best movies ever made for children of all ages.


Tong Tana


A very beautiful, very sad film about the life and despoliation of the tropical rain forest on Borneo. We follow a nomadic group of Penan people who move around subsisting on palm gruel and bush meat. People like them have lived this way for as long as there have been humans. Their way of life is threatened by the advance of "civilization" in the person of loggers hungry for the cash centuries-old trees can bring on the world market and indifferent to the consequences for the indigenous people living there.

It's an old story and no one watching can have any doubt how it will play out. This film is distinguished by the presence of a Swiss national who has decided to chuck it all go native. He lives with these people, using all the same skills and hunting techniques they do and has been doing it for eight years. He serves as our guide and comes across as intelligent and articulate and not at all weird for the life he's chosen.

Subsequent research on the net discloses that Bruno Manser left the jungle, returned to Europe and spent several years advocating for the Penan in the halls of power. After he returned to Malaysia he disappeared, almost certainly murdered by the capitalist thieves whose financial interests he threatened. Twas ever thus.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Beautiful Washing Machine


Wonderfully off-kilter film. A deadpan take on daydreams, pretty girls who serve as mute, uncomplaining house slaves and the complications that come from having a household appliance with a mind of its own.

It would be impossible to summarize the plot here. This was essentially a two hour journey through the looking glass with events set in what looks like our reality but really isn't. I thought it was fun but most wouldn't. For me it was fresh. I had no idea where it was going or what I would get to see on the way there.

It pleases me that something like this was made.


Chris and Don


This was a very lopsided film. They attempted a dual biopic of Christopher Isherwood and his longtime companion Don. But Isherwood was a major literary figure and well worth the attention this film brought. His first hand accounts of Weimar Germany have received world-wide acclaim and made the basis of several plays and films. 

Unfortunately he's dead. So the major focus of the film, necessarily, is Don who is an undistinguished, aging queen. He first hooked up with Isherwood when he was 16, essentially as his boy toy. Their relationship lasted but that fact alone doesn't make this guy interesting. He comes across as shallow and self-absorbed. The camera crew follows him around while he does his errands and I found myself why I was watching this. He does portraits which to my eye were generic, the kind of work you could find at garage sales everywhere.

Not worth it.


The Singing Revolution


This was a very moving account of the eventually successful effort by the people of Estonia to free themselves from the Russian tyranny which was their unwelcome legacy of WW2.  At the time-1991-the world's focus was on the collapse of soviet communism and the breakup of the Russian empire generally and this story got buried. 

Too bad...it's a great story. The movement was entirely self-generated and non-violent. These folks used the power of their common culture, native songs and their sheer moral authority to expel the foreign body from their midst. It should serve as an inspiration to all oppressed people.


Country Teacher


The loneliness and peril of a gay man in a rural Czech village. This was a poignant story nicely underplayed by the lead.

However, it was badly marred by the portrayal of most of the villagers as loud, drunken louts. This may actually be the case but it made the place seem more like cartoon reality than was good for the film.

A little too long.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Art School Confidential

w/d  Terry Zwigoff

This was just OK. He tried to do something oddball and quirky but it wasn't odd enough to be interesting or memorable. It was a coming-of-age/romcom more than anything. One problem was that the humor was coarse and vulgar without being funny. I counted one little chuckle which I have to admit was nicely handled.

The central conceit...what do you have to do to be a great artist?...wasn't anything we in the audience care about. You either are an artist and are continually driven to create or you're not. There's nothing wrong with being a dabbler but greatness usually eludes those folks.

Some good players were ill used here. Jim Broadbent in particular beshat himself in a losing cause. To my eye, Mr. Zwigoff has had two failures attempting fiction after his excellent Crumb documentary. It's still three strikes and you're out.




Loving tribute to one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. His career was derailed in the hateful madness of McCarthyism but his work, his humanism and his essential decency eventually triumphed.


In the Valley of Elah

Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron

A retired Army sergeant investigates the death of his son after the letter returns from Iraq. The theme here is dealing with the wreckage produced by American militarism.

Set up as a policier/thriller, it easily held me. TLJ underplayed his role which seems to be the current fashion for male actors of a certain age, but which worked well here.

Ms Theron made the film work. Her quietly determined character easily carried the story along. She was harassed, thwarted from all directions but simply ignored obstacles and kept moving forward.

The resolution strained credibility-a bit too pat-real life seldom comes together quite so neatly. But overall, this was in the plus column.


There's No Business Like Show Business

Ethel Merman  Donald O'Connor   d/ Walter Lang

All-out Hollywood spectacular musical from 1954. Strong cast, big production numbers,  cinemascope, all in living color. Structured around the life and times of a show business family through their decades in vaudeville. Similar in many ways to Yankee Doodle Dandy . 

This was made when Hollywood was fighting what it saw as a desperate battle for survival against the inroads of television so they tried with films like this to provide a spectacle which couldn't be done on TV. 

This was lively, colorful and fun. 

Incidentally, it also featured a supporting role by Marilyn Monroe which demonstrated for all who wished to see that she couldn't dance, act or sing. No wonder this woman was so troubled; she knew better than anyone that she didn't deserve the fantastic acclaim she received in the 50's. Her appeal was as a sex icon, an idealized image of female sexual allure, an impossible standard for anyone to meet and which to her, living on the inside of that body must have been bewildering. 


Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Lacemaker

France  1997   Isabel Huppert

This film launched her into worldwide recognition and a decades-long career. She was brilliant here, playing a shy, repressed, simple but decent shopgirl who falls in love with an upper middle class college student. He is enthralled by her innocence and lack of guile. She falls sweetly and naturally into her role of helpmate. He increasingly sees her as a social handicap among his pseudo-intellectual friends and after a cool reception of her by his parents, dumps her.

It's a simple story but there's more in these 90 minutes than in hours and hours of mainstream American films. 

The film ends with her gazing blankly at the camera for a minute or so. Long enough for us to feel the full depth of her despair. Haunting and unforgettable.


I'm Not Scared

Italt  2003

Shot in the stunningly beautiful southern Italian landscape, this was a coming-of-age/thriller. A 10 year old boy discovers a child hidden in a hole at an abandoned farm.  His interactions with the captive boy develop nicely as he, and we, discover that this is an ongoing kidnapping drama in which all the adults around him are complicit, including his parents. There is a hint of social criticism in a scene where his mother asks him to promise to leave the area as soon as he can...the implication being that if he stays there there is no escape from the mafia's clutches. 

The film was taut and gripping until a clumsily conceived and executed deus ex machina resolution ended it abruptly. It seemed like they had originally planned a black ending but were persuaded to change it at the last minute, leaving us with unsatisfying schmaltz. 

Too bad. They almost had a classic.


The Asphalt Jungle

Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe   d/John Huston

Noir, maybe the ultimate noir, from 1950. Dark, filmed mostly at night in seedy locations around what looks like Baltimore, this story involves a jewel heist orchestrated and carried out by local low lifes. Betrayal, cowardice, double-cross all show up here. Filmed under the asinine restrictions of the Hayes code which required that all the criminals had to pay...some with their lives.

Solid film all around. Great cast, script, look, direction. Ended with Hayden's character dying in a sunlit field in Kentucky, highlighting the idea of the day's rebirth and cleansing of the night's nasty doings.

This is considered a classic...deservedly so.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Misfits

Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe

It was impossible for me to watch this simply as a film. These players loom so large in movie history and the story of the making of this film is so well known that mostly what I saw was the legends interacting in front of a camera.

The strongest impression I had was that she couldn't act at all. She had a limited repertoire of schticks that she employed constantly. By this time (1961) she had completely lost her ingenue looks, was some 25 pounds overweight and was completely unable to bring believability to her character. She was more annoying than anything else. 

This was written by Arthur Miller, her estranged husband at the time.  He wrote the script around what he perceived as her persona but she was so neurotic and unstable that to my eye she badly needed help. Help no one around her was able to provide.

Gable was fine here in his last role. So was Montgomery Clift. I didn't care for Eli Wallach's performance...he seemed too intense, too wired to be credible as a westerner.  And Miller gave him some very clunky lines.

This has great historical value but as a film...not so much. Huston did a great job staging and editing the horse wrangling scenes at the end. But it was not enough to save it.


Slumdog Millionaire

d/ Danny Boyle

This has been characterized as a feelgood film. And so it is. 

It resides firmly in that corner of movie reality already occupied by Rocky, The Champ, Hoosiers, et al. In short, it's a BIG GAME movie. Will the hero overcome all the obstacles life or the filmmaker has placed in his path and win the big game? Are you kidding? 

This is distinctive in that it's set in the slums of Mumbai and the life of a slumdog is truly horrific but it has all the paint-by-numbers requirements of the genre: a really bad guy, morally compromised best pal, and, most importantly...TRUE LOVE (hey, it doesn't happen every day).  And, amazingly, everything turns out right in the end.  It even features a 3 minute closing dance video with hundreds of bodies gyrating in a parody/tribute to synchronized swim. Ya gotta love this life.

This kind of material has gotten so tired that even the parodies ( The Princess Bride, Movie, Movie ) have gotten old. Yet, people still respond to it.  Seems to touch something fundamental in us...maybe it's that hope springs eternal.

I don't bear any ill will toward these films. I just don't want to see another one again. Ever. 

This was very slickly done with quick cuts, thumping soundtrack, continuous time jumps...all the features of modern filmmaking. It will almost certainly boost Boyle's career.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Simon the Magician

d/  Ildiko Enyedi

A delightfully oddball film. 

A Czech seer is hired by the Paris police to help solve a murder. He does then spends several days frabbing around the city courting a young woman,  fending off celebrity and getting involved with another magician in a live burial contest which updates an early christian legend.

This worked because of the enigmatic lead performance. It tickled me all the way through and ended on a sweetly sentimental note.

Great fun.



w/d Alexander Sokurov

A wonderful film.

A lonely old woman travels to Chechnya to visit her grandson who is serving in the Russian occupation forces. The lead is played by Galina Vishnevskaya, who is well known in her native land as a prominent opera star.

Here she shuffles around, mumbling continuously, demanding this or that from the young men around her in the best babushka tradition. To them, she represents home, comfort, warmth, the familiar. They sneak longing peeks at her from around corners or down hallways.

She encounters a Chechen woman in the market and, effortlessly, the two women form a bond which transcends the martial world of men. 

This film was a marvelous display of humanism. Understated and quietly shot, it is a modern masterpiece and serves as a fine follow-up to his equally exquisite Mother and Son .



d/ Brian De Palma

Pure anti-Iraq war propaganda. I agreed with his political position but resented having my face shoved in the atrocities being committed by our imperial troops.

De Palma made a similar heavy-handed screed against the Viet Nam, Casualties of War  which didn't work either. You can't just let your passion on an issue take over your judgement about what other people are willing to sit through.

This guy's had some real hits and about an equal number of misses.



Keira Knightly

This was a beautiful, faithful treatment of an outstanding novel.

I thought they fudged the ending a little too much...the key point of the book, the kicker that stayed with me long after I read it...that there is no atonement, that sometimes people do really awful things to one another and aren't required to answer for it...wasn't in the film. It was implied but only obliquely. 

That aside, this was wonderful in every way...acting, sets, editing. Solid literary adaptation.


Off the Map

Joan Allen, Sam Elliott

Set in rural New Mexico, this involved a hollywoodized quirky family whose father is continually weeping, mom weeds naked and the 12 year old daughter is extremely precocious and borderline obnoxious.

Into this idealized atmosphere comes a lost IRS agent who, of course, is transformed from a suit to a brilliant artist just by being around such blithe spirits. It's a pretty tired formula but almost worked here because of the general affability of these people. Elliott's weeping was a stupid idea, though, poorly carried out and ended up ruining the film. Also the boat thing at the end was asinine. 

Not offensive but that's faint praise.


Lust, Caution

Tony Leung   w/d  Ang Lee

This film was a complete success. Splendid mise-en-scene. Strong characters/performances. The story was similar to Verhoeven's Black Book . Fairly explicit sex scenes which were crucial to the audience's understanding of the story. 

This was as good as a mainstream commercial film gets. Kudos.


Azur and Asmar

anime    Michel Ocelot

This is a quest story which could have been included as one of the stories in the Arabian Nights. The main thing that distinguishes it is the artwork, which is excellent. Ocelot uses only the fine filigree, non-representational art allowed by Islam. 

The film uses all the conventions of the genre, including an annoying sidekick but manages to do it well enough to satisfy the younger folks in the audience.


Sunday, December 21, 2008



Another triumph by this team. 

clever, inventive, entertaining film, with a pertinent social message. They succeeded in humanizing the robots to a remarkable degree. spectacular production design.

animation, in this case computer animation, is developing nicely into a form of legitimate artistic expression. at this point, if they can imagine it, they can make it appear on screen. 

what a treat. 


At the Death House Door


Do we really need a documentary to tell us that the Texas judicial system is hateful, mean-spirited and outrageously unfair? That the pig-headed bigots who apparently run the state seem to enjoy killing darkies and meskins, regardless of their guilt or innocence?

It doesn't help that this film is centered on a now-repentant bozo who spent his entire career peddling obeisance to his invisible best buddy who lives somewhere in the sky.  This guy stands for willful ignorance and complicit blindness. Saying sorry now just doesn't seem enough at this point. seppuku, perhaps?

My heart went out to the victims of this collective atrocity.  Meanwhile George Bush skated away and went on to bring his peculiar brand of civilization to the rest of the country. This is justice?


Who Does She Think She Is?


Nice piece on the work, trials and perils of women artists in America.  While the types of personalities presented here were about what you'd expect, the film was easily carried by the quality of the work shown. It was often startling, original, world-class work and this film should help bring it to a much larger audience.

Part of the story is the price exacted from these women for pursuing their muse. It can be high-poverty, loss of family, social disapproval. The ones who stick with it must. It's up to those of us watching to judge for ourselves whether or not it's worth it.

Good stuff


Gaz Bar Blues

Canada (Quebec)

An assortment of lower class layabouts hang around a family-owned gas station in Montreal. Various incidents happen, lives change and all the way through this film I found myself wondering why I should care about these people.

Dimly appealing in a raggedy-assed sort of way.


The Wild Bunch

William Holden, Ernest Borgnine   D/ Sam Peckinpah

This director's masterpiece.  Conceived and shot during the churn of Vietnam, this film, more than any other of that time, brought home just how violent American society had always been. Widely criticized at the time of its release, it mirrored the sense of nihilism and despair thinking people felt at the continuing degradation our culture was then undergoing.

Still relevant, even more apt today. Watch it and weep.

Damn good storytelling too.


The Intruders


Extremely aggravating film. lotsa tight closeups. unconnected scenes. handheld camera. They didn't get to the point here until well over an hour into this mess. Even then it wasn't clear what it was all about or why I should care.

Post modern garbage.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Vera Drake

Imelda Staunton   d/ Mike Leigh

Powerful juju. A working class woman "helps out" young women by giving them abortions in post war England. One of her clients nearly dies from complications, Vera is arrested,  imprisoned and becomes a social pariah.

Lots of solid touches here. Leigh has long been known as a champion of the lower orders. Here he makes his point by showing the contrast in the way a monied woman deals with her problem pregnancy. She, incidentally is played by Sally Hawkins, recently triumphant in Happy-Go-Lucky. The contrast between her character there and here is startling.

Ms. Staunton is wonderful in the title role. She moves from being a jaunty, cheerful lively little sparkplug to a haunted, drawn aged convict, scorned by friend and foe for her misdeeds. 

This one is up there with Secrets and Lies as his finest work.


High Wind in Jamaica

Anthony Quinn, James Coburn    d/Alexander MacKendrick  1965

This was adapted from an exceptional novel by Richard Hughes published in 1928.  Even though this was done by AMK the time it was made condemned it to disneyish schlock. The strength of the book was its dark humor and the fact that it was told from the perspective of the kids.  In the film the pirates are broadly caricatured as buffoons, silly fools who are easily manipulated. There's no believable sense of menace from them which really was crucial to the original story.  

The book at first seemed to be a children's adventure yarn but it slowly morphed into something considerably nastier...not quite Lord of the Flies...but close. 

Quinn spent his time here chewing up the scenery; Coburn's trademark charm never surfaced. Very little to recommend this one. Too bad. 



Russia 1967

neat adaptation of a Russian folk legend. This film was taken from a version of the story written by Nikolai Gogol.  A seminary student is forced by a community to spend three nights locked in a church praying for a recently murdered lass. She's actually a witch seeking revenge and he was her killer.

The special effects are primitive by today's standards but this is still a lot of fun to watch.


Coffee and Cigarettes

w/d  Jim Jarmusch

I thought this was really poor.  Various minor celebs sit around tables in grungy coffee shops  and engage in pointless conversations. I've greatly enjoyed several of this guy's films...Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man... but here his trademark deadpan style was pretty much all he had to offer us.  

Not worth it.


Thursday, December 18, 2008


Chris Cooper, Laura Linney

Some part of the story of the unmasking of American spy Robert Hanssen.  Cooper found a strange way to play this character...not a little creepy, slouched, wearing red lipstick. This actor's amassed a fine resume but this one didn't work for me at all.  As played, there was obviously something wrong with this guy and to my mind he would have been immediately suspect if there was any breach of security anywhere near him. 

I also had trouble accepting Ms Linney as a hard-assed FBI veteran.  She, too has a raft of excellent performances behind her (You Can Count on Me, Truman Show, Jindabyne) but I just wasn't able to believe her here. She's too rounded as a woman to be credible as a single-minded, focused Special Agent.

There wasn't anything bad here...it was just a routine hollywoodish take on a contemporary news story.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On The Town

Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Vera-Ellen

1949 musical which has a rousing start (New York, New York...no, not that one) but quickly spirals downward into the nonsensical drivel that characterizes many musicals.   The scenarios here were so preposterous they felt like being trapped in an hour and a half long Saturday morning cartoon. One nice pas de deux between Kelly and Vera-Ellen couldn't save this one.

Even the score by Leonard Bernstein seemed forgettable.

This falls into the category of films I wish I had kept in long-ago memory. 


Up The Yangtze


Odd little film.  This was meant to showcase the dramatic changes currently wrenching China as it rockets into the modern age after centuries of sleep. It succeeded in doing this but there was a strong sense of artificiality  here. 

It focused on several individuals and their families which certainly lent a human touch but it was immediately obvious that these people, some of whom were illiterate peasants, had a camera crew following them around as they went about their business. Sometimes they, or bystanders would be staring at the camera which made me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. Maybe a generation raised on "reality" shows are used to this. I found it distracting.

That being said the film accomplished what it set out to do.  It uses the flooding of the Three Gorges Dam project as synecdoche. A 16 year old girl gets a job on a luxury ship plying the river for well-heeled Western tourists.  While she is introduced into the greater world her family home is slowly engulfed by the rising river. In her case, you really can't go home again. The theme of the film is brought out vividly in the scene where she shows her parents the dining room on the ship, which contrasts starkly with the decrepit hovel she left weeks before. She's moved from the 17th century to the 21st in a blink.

A nice subtle scene showed one of China's "little emperors" getting his comeuppance in his first work experience outside the coddled confines of his home. These young men, a product of China's dubious one-child policy will be a societal problem for many years.

For some reason the cameraman uses many close tracking shots of peoples' feet as they go from one place to another. Made me wonder if he had a fetish although occasionally the shot conveyed information worth having.

Overall, this was well enough done to justify the time spent. Financed by the Canadian Film Board.


The Experiment


This was a fictionalized treatment of the famous Zambardo experiments of the 70's. Here, like in real life, a group of volunteers is divided arbitrarily into guards and prisoners and isolated for two weeks to see how the group dynamic plays out. The real one quickly deteriorated into cruelty and sadism and had to be aborted after several days.

This film does a great job establishing characters and building suspense to a very satisfying climax. There was just enough cross cutting with outside events to keep the it from seeming stage-bound

Even though I was familiar with the original experiment I was curious to see where this filmmaker was going to take the story and found the last 20 minutes edge-of-your-seat exciting. 

Some of the setup reminded me of Sidney Lumet's The Hill. Nice job.


King of Kong


This was a fascinating piece on those folks for whom Donkey Kong has become a lifelong passion. Serious geekdom here.  All male. Framed as a confrontation between a long-time champion and a nudging newcomer. 

It's easy to feel superior to these people but how different are they from anyone with an asinine obsession? Like football? Or bottle cap collecting? Or any of the other foolish things we do between birth and death that we place such stock in?

This held my interest all the way.


The City of Lost Children

This is the third time I've seen this one. Wonderfully imaginative, if more than a little weird. Great concept, look and execution. Laced with humor. Graced with many grotesque-looking character actors who are themselves the stuff of nightmares. I loved the retro-mechanical devices a la Brazil.

The tear-induced chain of events culminating in the ship crashing into the dock is a triumph and alone worth the price of admission.

This one resides in a category of one.


Synecdoche, New York

Here we follow a morose, weepy, self-absorbed character around for two hours while his behavior alienates everyone with whom he comes in contact.  He starts out depressed and gradually goes lower and lower. midpoint he gets a MacArthur grant and uses it to stage a minute-by-minute reconstruction of his miserableness using hired actors and those friends who haven't been chased away yet.

This film could be used as a definition of solipsism. Why Charlie Kaufman thought anyone would want to watch something like this is baffling. It comes across more than anything as an embarrassing display of the filmmaker's neuroses,  similar to the piece Woody Allen contributed to New York Stories. Too bad. His past efforts were creative, fresh and delightful. They did contain some similar elements but were leavened by humor and outrageousness. 

I was sorry to see such fine actors wasted here, particularly Emily Watson, who I see as marvelously skilled and seldom seen in recent years. Here she contributed a short, pointless nude scene which wasn't at all credible that I found degrading.