Rewatched on the fancy new blu-ray. I’m not this movie’s biggest fan (some of my favorite film critics revere it) but its depiction of two socially awkward people in love is pretty delightful to watch, and feels more true than your Silver Linings Playbook and other recent attempts. The plot reads like a total Little Miss Sunshine quirk-fest (man finds harmonium on the street, gets robbed and stalked by phone sex operators, buys thousands of puddings in order to make a big romantic gesture) but in practice it never seems lame or trite. This time around I appreciated how the music gets weirder, pinging and scratching, according to Sandler’s frame of mind.

A. Cook:

There is an attractive spontaneity here that is largely absent elsewhere. More importantly it is the first, and perhaps only, Anderson film that feels wholly his. It is much harder to pick out the filmic references this time around. No doubt both Boogie Nights and Magnolia were intense labours of love but this film shows Anderson free from the shackles of Scorsese, Altman and his other inspirations and free from audience and critical expectation.

A baseball movie perversely set in quiet, underlit offices and locker rooms (Mom: “Can you make the TV brighter?”). 2002 Oakland A’s manager Brad Pitt becomes impressed with nerdy Jonah Hill’s stats theories, hires him to create a low-budget team of effective/undervalued players. Strange idea for an underdog sports movie, because their ideas don’t actually work. Pitt can’t get coach Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the roster that Hill intended to maximize wins, so Pitt trades away Hoffman’s favorite players to force the issue… and they set a league winning streak and make the postseason, but the year still ends disappointingly. Meanwhile we get backstory of Pitt’s unimpressive early career as a player and his current home life (ex-wife Robin Wright and a daughter he’ll be able to see less often if he takes a different job) and a side plot with no payoff feat. Chris Pratt as a washed-up catcher turned fledgeling first baseman. But it’s got appealing actors and an Aaron Sorkin script, so it’s mostly a good time (memorable scene: Jonah Hill having to inform a player twice his size that he’s been traded) – and it made me care enough about Pitt’s Billy Beane to look up the real guy (still with the A’s through 2019).

Pitt makes most key decisions while driving:

Film Quarterly wrote a joint article about this and Margin Call, which made me realize that these two Autumn 2011-opening financial films with rhyming titles are the reason I still get Bennett Miller and JC Chandor confused.

Lawrence (who made Water For Elephants and the music video for Gone Till November) turns in a much better Hunger Games movie than the last guy did. This movie will, of course, be best remembered for bringing together both mid-2000’s Truman Capotes: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones. New additions to the movie’s revolutionary team include Jeffrey Wright (also in Only Lovers Left Alive this year) and Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman).

Long-awaited follow-up to There Will Be Blood has a similar episodic construction – power-hungry man meets someone equally strong-willed but very different, feels he needs to conquer the other man in order to progress. This one doesn’t come together as well, possibly because Philip Seymour Hoffman’s emerging religion is supposed to be similar to Scientology but with hardly any concrete details – the movie dances around its own (and its characters’) intentions.

Joaquin Phoenix is a burn-out ex-navy drifter singularly talented at making harsh alcoholic concoctions from whatever chemicals are around. He and Hoffman are the stars here – the Sunday and Plainview of this movie – and the other actors are almost incidental. Hoffman has a devoted wife (The Muppets star Amy Adams) and a frighteningly lookalike son (Jesse Plemons). Laura Dern has a small role as the family’s host, and later, the only believer to question Hoffman’s shifting rules (drawing rage instead of a reasoned explanation).

The movie is long and sprawling, and has plenty of uniquely wonderful shots. It seems disappointing compared to its predecessor – a movie less explicitly about religion which comes across as more spiritual and insightful.

Slant:

The Master drifts for long expanses, like the wanderer at the heart of the film, running on only the fumes of drama and action… [Phoenix] seems perpetually out of synch with dynamics of the group to which he belongs, and his apparent disinterest in the details of the religion he embraces is probably the best case for the film’s own detachment from the same—a line of reasoning one can accept abstractly without deeming it a virtue.

A movie about the perfect 1960’s, where nothing bad happens. Less realistic even than Love Actually and yet based on the mildly-true story of the pirate-radio boats that served London the hottest rock records which the BBC was too uptight to play. The uptight BBC is represented by villainous bureaucrat Kenneth Branagh (and villain-in-training Jack Davenport, who is given a missed opportunity for redemption at the end).
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The boat is populated by a bunch of DJs and a mixed-up naive kid designed to lead us through all this anarchy (as if we needed him). From left to right:
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Captain Bill Nighy
The kid
Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords
I think that’s Tom Wisdom of 300
Thick Kevin
Nick Frost
some dude with about two lines
stoned Bob (secretly our kid’s missing father): Ralph Brown of Withnail & I, Alien 3
possibly Philip Seymour Hoffman (head missing)

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And dramatically featuring: Rhys Ifans! Of Elizabeth 2! He shows up and brings faux-discord to the ship. Oh, and Emma Thompson has a scene as the kid’s mom. Most impressive was the inclusion of sixty classic rock songs, which must’ve accounted for half the film’s budget. Thought it was pretty good, light, funny. Katy was disappointed that it wasn’t Julie and Julia, and called it a boy movie.

This demands to be seen two or three times in order to piece together all the meanings and layers and characters. Unfortunately, with Milk and Ashes of Time in theaters, I don’t really feel like watching this again…

Charlie Kaufman directs his own script, presumably to have total control over his most complex scenario yet. Anyone would have to say he does a fine job with it, using effects and sets and makeup very well, and getting super performances out of his actors – anyone who hadn’t seen the Jonze and Gondry adaptations of Kaufman’s previous scripts, that is. Adaptation, Malkovich, Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine all had their share of the sad, dark grunginess that pervades this movie, but they also had amazing visual stylists as directors, who could add delirious highs to all those Kaufman-depressive lows through their staging and casting (note that the more successful films, Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine, put comedy actors in the dramatic roles). Synecdoche ends up being a movie I enjoy discussing with Katy, an admirable film, but not something I feel I can love.

Phil Hoffman is Caden, a Schenectady theater director – yes, Kaufman is doing it again. After screenwriting a movie about a screenwriter, he’s directing a movie about a director. Anyhow, Hoffman is married to Catherine Keener, a more ambitious artist than himself. Friend/nanny(?) Jennifer Jason Leigh is Maria, who watches over their young daughter Olive. Keener leaves Caden, takes the kid and moves to Berlin, which prompts a psychic break in Caden, so when he wins a grant to produce a play in NYC, he makes it a SYNECDOCHE (noun, the part which stands in for the whole) for his life. Eventually, as the play-Caden starts to produce his own play with its own play-Caden, Caden’s life may be becoming a synecdoche for the play! I think!

Anyhow, play-Caden is an interesting guy named Sammy (Tom Noonan). Emily Watson and Samantha Morton, two actresses I’ve admired who I always thought looked similar, finally appear in a movie together playing the same-ish role… bravo for that. Morton is Hazel, a girl who has long had a crush on Hoffman, and Watson is the girl hired to play Hazel. Hazel does get to be with Caden for one day before dying of smoke inhalation in her long-burning house. Hope Davis plays an unhelpful family therapist. And Dianne Wiest (do I only know her from Edward Scissorhands?) is hired as Caden at the end, and told to “direct” the real Caden, which she does, to his death.

Meanwhile there’s stuff about Caden’s daughter growing up in Berlin, falling in love with Maria and dying of a skin disease, never forgiving Caden for ruining his marriage with his secret gay life (not otherwise referenced, as far as I know – unless Caden “being” Dianne Wiest is a reference). Sammy commits suicide (referencing an attempted-suicide of Caden). There’s lots, lots more that I’m sure I have forgotten.

Kaufman’s real strength here are his collapsing of time, and strangely simultaneous expanding of time (see the burning house) – more haunting than his collapsing/expanding of reality – and all the philosophy on human existence he crams into such a short movie. I’m sure he’s aware that there’s no warmth in his movie, but is he aware that we would’ve liked some?

Happy 10th anniversary to the funniest comedy of the 90’s!

In honor of this anniversary, I intended to post pictures of Jeff Bridges’ smiling eyes, but the DVD crashes my VLC player on both computers, so I will abandon this post before I am tempted to start quoting lines.

Putting aside all the Tom Cruisey shenanigans and South Park sketches, he’s a really good actor for this type of movie. Fun fake faces, costumes, cars and brain bombs. The action scenes make my eyes hurt, and it’s all action scenes.

Billy Crudup, looking not so familiar, was the inside man and Phil Hoffman was an endearing psycho killer. Everyone else did whatever, and probably did a fine job of it. I was all caught up in the tension of the thing and the wild missions… thrilling. Took exception to the happy-sappy final scene, where all survivors (TC, wife, three teammates, commander L Fishburne and the comic-relief tech guy) laugh and cheer, the camera taking turns showing them smile in close-up. But later read a fine explanation of how Cruise maybe got brain-bombed or never woke up from eating a live electric cord, and the ending is a dying fantasy. Katy had a point in the action scenes having way too many cuts, but that’s nothing new.