Tag Archives: theater

Synecdoche, New York – Review

1 Apr

Here’s a movie that the late, great Roger Ebert called the best film of the decade back when it was released in 2008. This is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Before this film, Kaufman established himself as one of the greatest modern day story tellers with his screenplays of Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He’s a writer like no other, and the puzzles that his movies present are proof. That being said, Synecdoche, New York comes off as his most personal and most challenging work yet.

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Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director working in New York City. His most recent play is a success, but life at home couldn’t be worse. First, Cotard begins to suspect that he’s suffering from a degenerative disorder that’s practically shutting his body down. To make matters worse, his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) takes their daughter to Berlin for an art show, but never return. To cope with this, Cotard begins working on a personal and extremely realistic piece of theater by constructing a replica of New York City inside a giant warehouse with thousands of actors playing real life people acting out situations that have happened in day to day life. As the line of Cotard’s fiction and Cotard’s reality begin to become one, he begins to lose all track of time and control on his other relationships with multiple women in his theater group.

Anyone who is familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s work knows that he is not afraid to put our minds through a cinematic blender. Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich subscribed to a set of rules that seem only to exist in Kaufman’s mind. Things don’t have to make sense or follow any linear design as long as his story is there and he gets across what he’s trying to say, even though you may not get everything the first time through. You can’t really say that with most directors, but Kaufman makes it work. Unlike the other movies I’ve mentioned, the story in Synecdoche, New York completely goes off the rails leaving time and space to be a minor footnote to a work that’s much more important.

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Aside from being mind boggling in story, Synecdoche, New York also succeeded at boggling my emotions. This is one hell of a heavy movies despite how completely off the walls it is. There’s so much stuff to find hilarious in this movie, for example doctors who do their best to give their patients as little insight as possible, a psychiatrist who doesn’t seem to be even listening, and a character who buys and lives in a house that’s perpetually on fire. However, and this is a huge however, once the movie starts getting into its later scenes and I began to realize more and more the message of the movie, I found myself getting hopelessly sad in a way that a movie hasn’t done to me in a while. So, yes, the movie is really funny in many scenes, but it’s overall quite upsetting, but upon closer inspection it may give you a surge of great joy.

With the huge emotional response and the fact that this world Kaufman has made exists outside the realm of conventional rules, it’s safe to say that watching this movie just once is a bad idea. Going back and thinking about this movie more has made me realize all of the little clues, themes, and symbols that I completely failed to notice the first time through. It’ll almost be like watching the movie for the first time all over again now that I know how much it really plays with your mind. The only complaint I can possibly have about this movie is that it seemed to go on and on. For a movie as strange as this with all of its complicated storytelling, it is a little bit long and I felt it necessary to take a little break in the middle.

Going back to what Roger Ebert said about Synecdoche, New York being the best movie of the decade, I wouldn’t go that far in my opinion. It is still a truly remarkable movie that feels very personal to Kaufman, but also works great as a movie that exists to figure out the meaning of the story and piece together all the clues that seem to be subliminally sneaked into the movie. Still, this movie is not for everyone. It’s so complex and difficult that the casual movie watcher may not be interested. For the nice audience that it is directed too, however, this is a fascinating and original film that fits perfectly into Charlie Kaufman’s filmography and succeeds especially as his debut film.

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Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Review

10 Nov

Every so often, a movie comes around that makes me really appreciate all the creative work that film makers put into it. When I first saw the trailer to Birdman, I was set and ready to see it. When I saw that Alejandro González Iñárritu was in the director’s chair and also wrote the film, I was more than ready to see it. This is a film like no other that I’ve seen in a very long time, with a story that hits you where you really feel it and cinematography that will make you rethink how the medium can be utilized. This is an amazing film, and very well may be the best movie of the year.

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Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an aging movie star best known for his portrayal of the comic book hero, Birdman, in the early ’90s. Now, he considers himself to be washed up and only remembered as the man behind the mask, so he decides to reinvigorate his career by adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full length Broadway play. A number of things begin to go really wrong including replacing one of the actors with the belligerent, but well known, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), getting into multiple confrontations with his recovering drug addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and just plain bad luck. At this rate, it would be a miracle if they made it through the few previews they have before opening night.

Where do I even begin? When I left the theater, I was completely wound up and trying to sort through all of my thoughts on the movie. It was just so exciting to see a movie that seemed to hit everything perfectly. I don’t have a single complaint about Birdman. First off, the cast in this movie are excellent. Michael Keaton completely owns the show and I’d say deserves some recognition when the time comes for Best Actor nominations to be announced. The other person that matches Keaton’s level of performance is Edward Norton, who I think deserves his own bit of recognition when the time comes. Everyone else is also note perfect.Zach Galifinakis, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts are all memorable in their own ways, which brings me to my next point.

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I was really surprised at the layers the characters had. It’s great when characters are fleshed out, but the ones in Birdman were strangely real. There aren’t any good people or bad people, but only people who have troubles that affect how they live their day to day lives. Each day that passes presents each character with their own set of problems, and the most entertaining part of this movie is watching each person deal with the issue, but also change a little bit because of it. The arcs that start in the beginning and get wrapped up as the movie progresses come so naturally and I believed everything I was watching, even though there were moments of fantasy strewn throughout the film. This is one of those movies that I think is just perfectly written. Every joke made me at least chuckle and the drama was enough to completely floor my emotions.

In my opinion though, the most impressive part of Birdman was the cinematography and the editing. The audience literally follows these characters around as they prepare for the show’s opening night. By that I mean that the camera doesn’t cut until a few minutes before the end of the movie. Now, I know that would be ridiculous to say, because it is ridiculous. It’s not like this movie is one continuous take, but it is cleverly edited to make it seem like it’s one take. Think of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, except the cuts are much more subtle. Does the film have to be edited like this in order to work? Certainly not. The movie would have been just fine if it was edited normally, but it did add a new dimension of appreciation and skill that wouldn’t have been there.

Birdman is a movie that is sure to blow you away, just like it did with me. I went in expecting a lot and left feeling like I was given a lot more than I could’ve ever wanted. This is a comedy with an sort of depressing edge to it, but one that seems very understood by everyone working on the film. The bottom line is that every part of this movie came together so perfectly that it surprised me. If you haven’t gone out to see Birdman yet, consider it your duty as a human being to get to the theater as soon as possible!