Cannes: Synecdoche, New York Still Looking for a Date to U.S. Theaters?

I love saying the name of this movie. Synecdoche. It means: "a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special, as in ten sail for ten ships or a Croesus for a rich man." It's a play on Schenectady - one of the boroughs of New York. And, in true Charlie Kaufman style, the two terms are going to be inextricably entwined. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a theater director making an ambitious (understatement of the year) production about New York, love, death, "earth" (?), and beyond, and starts to fill an empty warehouse with actual life-sized buildings and ...real people (!) to live in and experience and communicate his version of the world. It's like Michel Gondry's ('Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind') Bjork music video, Bachelorette, on celluloid! The clips, while definitely fulfilling that requisite Kaufman tone, don't give away too much. Still, it's enough to pique my interest. I hope it gets a distributor soon, and I find it quite odd that not a single one has landed it despite its early showing and praise (Anne Thompson: “ambitious, arty and brilliant, if not entirely accessible.”) not to mention its most compelling draw - this is a Charlie Kaufman work!

Slashfilm has the three clips. (Hot Blog has them too.)
(Slash's is a bit more user-friendly, but can't be embedded as far as I can tell.)

IMAGE from: Variety


Cannes: Clint Eastwood's Movie ...Changes.

News out of the festival: Clint Eastwood's 'Changeling' starring Angelina Jolie in 1920s period dress (a perfect fit after her somewhat short stint as the face of St. John) has become 'The Exchange'. Very appropriate that the name would change given the name itself, but I kind of liked 'Changeling' - gave it sort of a steam punk vibe which only heightened the mystery element that the movie is founded on. Basic premise, which is based on the real-life Wineville Chicken Murders case: Christine Collins (Jolie) and her son live humbly in a quiet neighborhood in 20s Los Angeles, but one evening after pulling in some overtime, she finds her son has mysteriously disappeared. Months go by before her son is returned by the LAPD, and in the meantime her plight has become regional news, so when she finally reunites with him at the platform of a train station, she's stunned to find that this new boy isn't hers. Her cries of confusion are blunted by the police who label her deluded and loony, and she's placed in a mental ward by corrupt cop Chief James E. Davis (Colm Feore). But with the help of radio Evangelist Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), she uncovers a web of corruption, politics and murder.

One of my absolute favorite films out of the 90s (it was my no.1 for a good long time in high school, years ago) is 'L.A. Confidential' and another of my favorites in general is 'Chinatown' so it's struck me that maybe I just like these historical fiction tales on Los Angeles in its early history, which is certainly very rich and tangled. This film sounds a heck of a lot like 'Confidential' and in the best way, but being written by J. Michael Straczynski whose best-known vehicle was creating 'Babylon 5' I imagine the characterizations will be a lot broader, and less pulpy than 'Confidential' which was adapted from a James Ellroy novel (whose other book turned into Brian De Palma's 'The Black Dahlia' - another Los Angeles-spun historical fiction film). 'Exchange' definitely has my attention, and with Todd McCarthy's early review of the film, I imagine only greater things could be coming out of this between now and its release later in the year. The content alone has it poised for some kind of run through the awards season early in 2009, and J. Michael Straczynski's script has seen some great responses. What do you think? Surefire Best Picture contender? (If Awards Daily has placed it on the tracker, then it must be!)

(Also interesting to note is that Amy Ryan, the Academy Award-nominated mother from 'Gone, Baby, Gone' plays a supporting role in this as well, which gives the film an unintentional (?) flavoring of that film, which was rather good I thought. I wonder if Eastwood will splice that route and lift it to some subtext, or simply ignore it and pin the LAPD as the sole source of immorality?)

IMAGE from: First Showing


Cannes: Woody Allen's 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'.

As much a part of Woody Allen's mystique goes to his dedicated audience's experiences with his films as it does his knack for being an auteur. The stories behind the films, about how his fans have reacted to each or all, are certainly an important element when considering his influence. Even when he makes a film that stagnates or a film that hardly makes any strides creatively, his films are a bridge into his mind, and it's always a compelling experience to go there. His latest film, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', which debuted at Cannes this year, may have received some pretty mixed reviews thus far (many coming from confusion over whether or not he's parodying himself - he may very well be), but I think he's still more fascinating at his worst than quite a few directors are when they're "on the money".

When I first saw that the film was going to play at Cannes, I was interested, but not entirely excited. 'Scoop' looked like it had his idiosyncrasies, but not much intrigue. 'Cassandra's Dream' looks like the opposite. The early reviews affirmed me, many were put off by its pacing, its melodrama, and its odd sexual tension (without actual sex). I was disappointed that a film with such a wonderful cast as this (Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall - who played Christian Bale's wife magnificently in 'The Prestige' but has yet to surface to noted acclaim) could be sloughed off as having unfocused tension and chemistry issues. 'Match Point' was such a wonder, an unadulterated joy to behold, that I've almost been holding my breath to see how Allen might evolve next (I thought the new location in Barcelona could do it). Lucky for me, the good stuff is starting to pour in...

Kim Voynar of Cinematical gets the idea with Woody Allen, and relates the experience of watching a film of his to opening a Christmas gift from your eccentric aunt, his latest being of the good bunch:
"I've said before that a new film from Woody Allen is something like getting a Christmas gift from your eccentric aunt; you never know if you'll get a crocheted toilet paper cozy, or a piece of priceless heirloom jewelry. Fortunately, Allen's newest film, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', turns out to be more like the latter.

....Allen has succeeded in making an excellent film; Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a lovely gift from a filmmaker who, when he's on his game, truly hits the mark.
Yet if Woody Allen is proficient in anything and quite consistently, it's extracting captivating performances from his actresses (his muse now being Scarlett Johansson, as overexposed as she is), this time from Penelope Cruz, who's still hot (and bothered?) off of 'Volver' and receiving the most glowing responses of any element of the film. It's because of her powerhouse performance in this that's returned my hopes to their high place for this film. Todd McCarthy of Variety:
"Cruz, who officially graduated from sex kitten to powerhouse melodramatic actress in “Volver,” is in full Anna Magnani mode here, storming up and down mountain peaks of emotion and captivating everyone in the process. Allen even generates affectionate comic mileage from the common rap on Cruz’s acting–that she’s great in Spanish but blah in English–by having her deliver Maria Elena’s colorful tirades in her native language, only to be told again and again by Juan Antonio to speak English so Cristina can understand her. She’s dynamite here in either language."
Professional critics may be losing their jobs and criticism as a whole may be on the decline, but doesn't that just get your blood roiling with anticipatory glee?

IMAGE from: FishbowlNY
IMAGE from: First Showing


Cannes: Most Anticipated.

This year's Cannes Film Festival (with poster efforts by none other than David Lynch, below; employing a familiar motif) boasts some highly-anticipated new films from some of the most exciting filmmakers around, and a good number of them are set to open. The rest of the schedule, of course, looks just as splendid. (Here's the Variety coverage.) The first unveiling goes to Fernando Meirelles' ('The Constant Gardener' and 'City of God') Blindness which is one of the most curious films and one that I'm incredibly excited about. It takes a high concept like an epidemic of contagious blindness sweeping across a city and turns it into an elegant (so I hear) allegory about the fragility of civilization. It's adapted from Nobel prize-winner Jose Saramago's 1995 novel of the same name. 'Children of Men' and 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' come to mind whenever I hear or read about this film, and that's definitely a good thing, it's a good combination. The cast looks shining, too, consisting of Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, is another of my personal picks for most anticipated, as Kaufman is one of the few screenwriters in or around Hollywood who has managed to turn the auteur theory on its head, or his. He's a hot commodity, as they say, and his new pic is being trailed by studio execs like a lion to a calf (seen the Battle at Kruger video yet?). They may get lost in this one, though, because it looks like a doozy: Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a theater director (living in Schenectady, New York, where else?) whose wife - played by Catherine Keener - leaves him, so to prove his worth decides to build a replica of the city in a warehouse, which he expands ultimately for forty years and populates with actual people. Even more of a doozy: Kaufman always said he wanted to make a horror film, and he calls this one it. His first time directing (he's the only first-timer this year at the festival), he's got some major ambitions.

Some of the other films to debut: Steven Soderbergh's Che, which follows Benicio del Toro as the 'Lawrence of Latin America' in a two-parter; Woody Allen's continuation of his re-energized phase that started with 'Match Point', Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which follows Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall in another twisty, lusty plot; James Gray's Two Lovers about a man, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who's stuck in the middle between a woman his family loves and a new and volatile neighbor; and Clint Eastwood's The Changeling, which stars Angelina Jolie as a mother (the story of her life) who finds with the return of her abducted child that something's not quite right. A year with big names has quite a few fighting for the top spot.

IMAGE from: Anne Thompson


Circle of Critics Loses Another.

It was last year that Premiere Magazine succumbed to the pressures of online, and published its last issue (it had Will Ferrell on the cover promoting Blades of Glory) only to retreat to a tiny corner of the internet where their old prominence and clout became virtual anonymity wrapped up in ugly page designs. Do you think the site will last much longer next to more extensive and expansive sites like Empire and even Entertainment Weekly (which is less a cinema mag and more a tome of pop culture and box office numbers) who have successfully made the transition to digital? It's the scenario that many print publications are facing - either go online, or get out. I'm not so sure Premiere.com will last, especially now with the forced departure of one of their best, one of their vets who was also one of the only to draw any kind of traffic (so says Anne Thompson; I'm sure a majority of readers for any given columnist/critic don't look them up online and probably don't even know their names - a sad truth). Glenn Kenny was one of my personal heroes at the magazine and he was one of the earliest to leave an impression on me (Peter Travers of Rolling Stone is the other), so his absence there will surely be felt (and tallied and analyzed on their feed, since that's how these publications have to do it now). (Read his comments to some other "critics" in defense of his art, which is a dying art.) He's got a great mind and a lucid, distinct writing style, so I'm sure he'll surface again soon, and hopefully on a better-looking interface. Read his final words on the Premiere Blog.

IMAGE from: GeekRoar


'Milk' Does Everybody Good.

It's probably a good thing that Bryan Singer's production of the biopic about assassinated San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk didn't get made. Not that he wouldn't have done a great job, or a particularly accurate or humane one, but just for the sake of giving the memory of the groundbreaking openly-gay public official all that he deserves, I think it's better that we'll end up with just one picture. Gus Van Sant's version of the film, though much less neatly named (Singer's was called The Mayor of Castro Street), is the one that's pulled ahead. The lack of competition for location shooting, talent and awards expectations means that more can go into the production, and better care can be taken. And for director Van Sant, the cast and crew of Milk and the citizens of San Francisco - and especially Castro Street, which metamorphosed during the 70s from an Irish neighborhood to a predominant gay district - it's definitely a labor of love. The film's been in production for quite some time (extended and suspended due to the WGA Strike earlier in the year) and won't be in theaters for some time either, so the film's already making hearts heavy with melancholy and anguish. After all, several of the consultants and crew have fond memories of Mr. Milk, and the daily reminder of what happened in November of 1978 that's been recreated with the sets and costumes still shakes their roots. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke to quite a few of them back in January, and it makes for some good reading on the production and the remnants of Mr. Milk's legacy.

But the recreated sets and costumed actors have given quite a few some good old hope and faith, too. A good amount has changed in all of America in the last 30 years, and with so many more gay and lesbian public officials having been in office since and with the visibility of the LGBT community and the Gay Rights Movement on the rise, many who've long advocated greater tolerance and awareness are probably looking forward to the days where we'll take gay characters and gay culture for granted. With Gus Van Sant at the helm, one needn't worry about sentimentalism or sensationalism, and with his talent comes more talent: Sean Penn will play Milk himself (below), with James Franco as his first lover and campaign manager Scott Smith, Emile Hirsch as student activist and intern of Milk's Cleve Jones, Victor Garber as Mayor George Moscone, Diego Luna as Jack Lira - another lover of Milk's, and Josh Brolin as the noted killer and fellow official Dan White. Such a serious cast as that should easily be able to deliver some cathartic and enlightened moments, and enlighten the viewers who aren't aware of who Milk was. Maybe they'll even immortalize his best quote, which was an almost prophetic wish of what was to come: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." He gets a second chance to say it.

2008: Year of the Comic Book Movie?

With the summer season having been kicked off this last weekend to an incredible start with Iron Man (which opened to more than $100 million in its first weekend - the largest for a non-sequel), the stakes are now even higher for the other big comic books films shooting for the top spot as Summer 2008's biggest tentpole adaptation, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight. The Paramount-distributed flick has proven to be a big earner for Marvel, who produced and developed the film independently and had gambled on bringing director Jon Favreau, ultimately to great success with him at the helm.

But of course Universal (whose 'Hulk' will be released on June 13) and Warner (with their 'Dark Knight' to debut on July 18) were aware of the anticipation surrounding the film, which had a $50 million ad campaign behind it, and decided to capitalize on its timing and newly-energized demographic to promote their own blockbusters with new trailers to call their own. 'Hulk' was released exclusively through Apple, while 'Dark Knight' had its posted on one of their viral websites (the latter also taking the opportunity to draw more hype around Harvey Dent, who of course becomes Two-Face, in a strategic move away from reminding audiences of Heath Ledger's tragic passing, who is still extensively featured in the trailer).

Also awaiting release are Wanted, which is helmed by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov and stars James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman, based on the comic by Mark Millar, and Hancock, which isn't based on a comic but nonetheless features Will Smith as a bad-mouthed and ill-received superhero who decides to change his public image with the help of Jason Bateman. It's a definite summer of hotly-anticipated flicks of all kinds, it'll be fascinating to see how this season yields by the time it closes.

And even beyond the summer, films like Frank Miller's adaptation of the Will Eisner comic The Spirit and Zack Snyder's follow-up to smash hit 300 are awaiting wide release with almost fever pitch, the former still waiting a release date (though it does already has a teaser).

*Speaking of Iron Man and The Dark Knight, two major spoilers have found their way onto the internet. For the one concerning what happens after the credits roll in Iron Man, click here. For a truly disturbing, but exciting, image from the Batman sequel, click here.