A change to the schedule today, which came with associated headaches. We realized that the 20 minutes we were giving ourselves after The Ghost to get to a different theatre (albeit one nearby) to see Chocolate simply wasn’t going to be enough, given that they start giving tickets to the rush line at about 15 minutes prior to the start of the film, and that we prefer sitting next to each other.
So we traded our tickets to see The Ghost for vouchers, getting up early to do so. Then we hopped on the subway to rush over to our next screening, realizing that the guy who did the exchange screwed up: giving us one regular voucher (which was correct), and one day voucher (which was not). Day vouchers can only be used for screenings prior to 5:00 pm, but we were planning on using it in a rush line for a 6:30 pm screening (as is our right, being Festival Lite package holders). So now we had to go back to the line from this morning, at a time when time was precious (we had to get in the rush line and grab dinner). After making the switch and grabbing some subs, we were pretty far back in the rush line for Uncertainty. But we made it into the screening (just barely), proving that the rush line process can work sometimes (largely because at this part of the week, no muckity-mucks are attending screenings anymore, so the reserved seats are turned over to rush liners).
Read on for musings on Synecdoche, New York, Gigantic, Uncertainty, and Me and Orson Welles…
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan
Charlie Kaufman steps into the director’s chair for the first time, seemingly attempting to prove that the straight-laced, literalistic adaptors of his previous tales like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were holding back his vision all along from reaching its true, manic heights. Because this movie? Is messed up. It makes Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind look about as fanciful as a Ron Howard film. I hated it and I loved it, and think it’s both the self-indulgent work of an artist stuck in his own head and the brilliant work of an artist examining every crevise of his messed up head.
On the one hand, Synecdoche, New York is the perfect sort of film to catch at a film festival: off-the-wall unusual, challenging, and trapped beneath about 15 layers of meta, making it perfect for an audience of film lovers. On the other hand, it’s a bit unfortunate that I still have several movies to watch in such a short period of time (I’m currently sitting in the theatre for my next screening), since I could use a week or so try and mentally unpack what I just experienced. It probably requires multiple viewings to try and interpret all the metaphors and eccentricities on display, but believe me when I tell you that I have no desire to ever see this film again.
As the film began, I was enjoying the humdrum dynamics of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Samantha Morton, while slightly annoyed at Kaufman’s by now tiresome infusion of the bizarre. Then as it slipped further down the rabbit hole, I was ready to give up on it (which is another reason why the film is a good festival choice: were I watching this at home on DVD, I’m not sure I would have kept watching). But then it got even more weird, pushing far past the tacked on quirkiness you’d expect from a Kaufman film into the world of the bizarre, and I was in awe. Beyond the metas within metas on screen was the extra meta level of realizing that this came out of another human being’s head, and the question if we were getting a glimpse into how Charlie Kaufman’s mind works. By that point, I was way past trying to figure out what the specifics of the film were, and was sort of happy to simply be along for the ride. With my mind fully blown, I was now able to see the whole picture, and damned if there wasn’t some true profoundity trapped beneath all those layers.
Could this have been achieved with a little less craziness and more judicial editing? Probably, but I’m guessing it was all part of the process Kaufman needed to get there himself.
Verdict: Success – I’m still not sure if I actually liked the movie on whole, but damned if it was an impressive achievement. The question I’ll be working through for next little while is what exactly it achieved.
Director: Matt Aselton
Starring: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner, Jane Alexander, John Goodman, Ian Roberts, Robert Stanton, Clarke Peters
People love to praise the independent system for allowing artists to pursue their vision unhindered by the studio system of notes and interference. There’s no doubt this can be a good thing, as many a studio project is geared more toward commerce than art. But sometimes you watch an indie, and you wish there was a producer involved who could take a step back and help save a director from his or her worst instincts. Such is the case with Gigantic, a movie with some really good parts that needed someone to step in and redirect it at times. At its core, the film is another in the line of cloying indie quirkfests featuring a magical pixie girl (Zooey Deschanel) to help guide our mopey hero (Paul Dano). Luckily, it gets by more on the charm of its performers than it does on its own cleverness, making it a largely enjoyable flick. Deschanel is particularly appealing, helping sell the emotion of the film through her performance even when the film itself doesn’t quite earn it. Supporting turns by Ed Asner, John Goodman, and Clarke Peters contribute to the enjoyable nature of the flick, but director Matt Aselton should’ve given himself one more draft with the script, cutting out a meaningless subplot that added nothing (yet took time that could’ve been better spent developing the main relationship that powers the film). Maybe if this film finds a distributor, a producer could come in and cut it out, or at the very least, give it a title that means anything in relation to the film.
Director: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lynn Collins, Assumpta Serna, Olivia Thirlby
Uncertainty follows one couple (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins) though two days of their lives from two perspectives, each examining the consequences of one decision (intermingling the two possibilities, a la Sliding Doors). It’s basically two movies mixed together to make one, with one outcome leading to a quiet interpersonal drama that has the couple spending time with her family on Independence Day while trying to come to a decision about Collins’ pregnancy, and the other outcome resulting in a low key thriller where the couples’ lives are threatened when they find a missing cell phone in the back of the cab. Each story is well executed on a low key scale, but I’m not sure if either would have been enough to warrant a full movie (although maybe they would, if they were further developed). So the conceit of the film was necessary; unfortunately, the device used to set up the conceit needs some work. Still, an enjoyable little film that puts you into lives of two relatable characters.
Verdict: Decent – Probably needed a bit more to be a true success, Uncertainty is a well acted, well written little film that would be worth stumbling upon (which we sorta did) rather than one worth seeking out.
Me and Orson Welles
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ben Chaplin, Claire Danes, Zac Efron, Zoe Kazan, Christian McKay, Kelly Reilly
Richard Linklater‘s new film is a small tribute to an earlier time, infused with the “let’s put on a show” mentality that it examines with this look at a young Orson Welles, a talented primadonna staging his adaptation of Julius Caesar, through the eyes of Disney Family superstar Zac Efron. Efron had decent presence as a leading man, the problem is that the film itself felt so slight that with a few edits for content, it felt like it could’ve been a Disney Family production. It kind of reminds me of a cartoon I watched as a kid about Benjamin Franklin that followed the inventor and statesman from the perspective of a mouse. Well, here Efron is the mouse, and Orson Welles is the egomaniac inventor (lucky for Efron’s Richard, Welles doesn’t put him in a kite during a thunderstorm).
Verdict: Average – There’s nothing particularly wrong with Linklater’s film, but there’s nothing particularly right about it either. The whole thing is a bit of a lark, and is too minor to get excited about either way.