Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Recursive Drama About Life (and Death and Art (and relationships)) (rated 4 stars)

Charlie Kaufman is a distinctive writer of quirky films that usually subvert formal structures and are built around narcissistic characters who lack self-awareness. To say that Synecdoche, New York takes places within Kaufman’s usual territory would be an understatement and in his directorial debut he takes it one step further in a messy, frustrating and fascinating film. Filled with strange images, characters and situations that sometimes make sense and sometimes don’t, it’s one of the most unique films that I’ve seen over the past year. I don’t think that it’s for everyone, but it is so dense and lovingly constructed that I think people will be talking about it for long time.
What kind of strange is it, you may ask? (he asked rhetorically). There are parts that are a bit dreamlike and surreal, but not in the way that David Lynch does it (with Lynch it seems more intuitive). There are parts that are like Jean-Luc Godard (but not as political or ecstatically cinematic). It’s quite neurotic and darkly funny and emotionally brutal at times.
It’s unsettling with complex performances from the cast who have to work within very strange parameters. I don’t think that I’ve seen a film that operates with such a strange sense of time and identity with days or years passing between cuts and the elements blurring the distinctions between places, times and people. Magical surreal images are sprinkled throughout the film with an absurd sense of humour that sometimes is poignant.
This is a unique vision and one that I need to revisit to start to piece together more.

An Inspirational Biography of a Pioneer (rated 4 stars)

The biographical drama is a well-worn genre and while it allows for important stories to be told, the conventions often will make the films a bit boring. Luckily with Gus Van Sant’s Milk he avoids the traps and with a wonderful performance by Sean Penn, the film blends a bit of documentary with solid performances and a bit of style to create a film that is powerful and entertaining. Establishing the context and touching on early and significant moments in Harvey Milk’s life, the film focuses mainly on Milk’s activist and political career in a clever balancing of the needs of the biographical story and a character study. The film is filled with an infectious energy and enthusiasm of those who surrounded Milk as played by the great cast. Van Sant handles with the film with a light touch and the two hours breeze by as we watch the brave and bold fighter for gay rights struggle and laugh and live.

A Stark 48 Hours with a Suicide Bomber (rated 4 stars)

by Julia Loktev

In Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night we accompany a woman who is a suicide bomber as she prepares. With any politics stripped away and with a minimalist and intimate style, it’s an unsettling, tense and very human look at a character in an extreme situation. Shot an edited in a style that is simple, close and claustrophobic, it becomes increasingly gripping and compelling as the inevitable approaches.