Category Archives: 2008

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

I know how to do it now. There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.

— Caden Cotard

Charlie Kaufman’s indecipherable directional debut, Synecdoche, New York has been discussed, examined and picked apart since it came out in 2008. I knew the bare essentials about the plot before watching one frame of the movie. I wanted to love this movie. I wanted to like the movie. I wanted to movie to end.

Kaufman made a pessimistic view of life in general. It’s like that old adage, we die a little bit everyday. Caden Olstad (Philip Seymour Hoffman) exemplifies that perfectly as he obsesses over his own mortality read papers about Harold Pinter dying and bird flu. Certain moments of his life are spent worrying that he has a new disease.

His self-fulfilling prophecy comes true when he was shaving, the sink explodes with a piece hits him on the forehand. Caden goes to get stitches where he learns that he has a “condition” that none of the doctors who say any further. It was never explained what condition he had. Caden thinks he’s dying.

He is dealing with the crumbling marriage to Adele (Catherine Keener). Their marriage counselor, Madeleine Gravis (Hope Davis) is not making things any better with his cold disposition. Caden tries to put all of himself in his production of Death of a Salesman casting younger actors, Tom and Claire as Willy and Linda Loman (Daniel London, Michelle Williams). It gets great reviews, but Adele couldn’t care less.

Adele has an opportunity to show her macroscopic work in Berlin. She goes with her friend, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein). Before leaving, Adele asks Caden what will be his contribution to the world would be when he dies. Caden becomes obsessed to find his masterpiece when he gets a MacArthur grant. Did I mention there are huge gaps in time here? From 2005 to 2009 when he gets the grant.

Caden spends all of his time with his play about death doing a Mike Leigh style where the actors interact and Caden takes whatever their reactions into the script. People come in and out of his life like his assistant, Hazel (Samantha Morton) or striking up a relationship with his lead actress, Claire. People die all around him and he is wondering why they have to go before he does. He is too busy preparing to die already. As the year go on, Caden becomes trapped in creating his own world that he can’t see what’s in front of him.

I believe that Kaufman over shot his debut a little bit. He does some far out concepts that somehow if it’s a doorway going into the mind of John Malkovich, a woman finding a savage man raised by apes, retelling the double life of a game show host who allegedly moonlighted as a hitman, actually creating a fictional twin brother, and a machine that would erase your bad memories away. What’s up with the burning house? Caden watching Olive dance? That woman that mistakes him for Ellen? The ending was a head scratcher.

I didn’t hate this movie. I thought it was too ambitious for its own good.

Rating: ***

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Valkyrie (2008)

I’m a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience.

— Col. Claus von Stauffenberg

Since Tom Cruise is the latest person to be in the LAMB Acting School 101 this month, I thought I would revisit a movie that was largely dismissed WWII drama, Valkyrie. There was a lot bad buzz around this movie with the numerous release date changes and even the possibly of changing the title of movie. A movie about killing Hitler, it’s a no-brainer about what the ending is. This movie is something different to offer about the SS.

The film starting in North Africa during the last years of the war where Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is conflicted with serving his country and standing up to the atrocities of what Hitler has done to Jews and his people. He is tries to find somebody that would rise up against the Third Reich. Just then his unit is attacked by the Allied forces.

Losing two fingers in his left hand, left eye and right hand entirely, Stauffenburg is held up in a Munich hospital where he is visited by his wife, Nina (Carice van Houten). He has to return to Berlin to await further instruction from the Fürher (David Bamber).

Meanwhile, there have already been plots to assassinated Hitler mainly with Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) trying to kill Hitler with a bomb that did not go off on the plane with him or Colonel Heinz Brandt (Tom Hollander) who unknowingly carried the package into the plan in the first place. After he botched attempt, Treschow returns to High Command to get it back. Tresckow’s co-conspirator, General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) lets him know that their plan might be exposed when another defector is arrested. They would need another person to lead the uprising.

When Stauffenberg comes back to Berlin, he is recruited by Olbricht to lead the resistance. Stauffenberg is surprised that many people want to overthrow their tyrannical leader like Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) who tries to find a way to destroy Hitler from the inside out.

Stauffenberg suggests that somebody should infiltrate Hitler’s inner circle. He also suggests that they initiate Operation Valkyrie, which is a plan for when Hitler is dead; the reserved army would be active to help with civil unrest. They want to stage a fake coup to arrest the SS soldiers that take over the government. As Beck said in one conversation, “This is the military. Nothing ever goes according to plan.” Truer words were ever spoken.

The rest of the movie chronicles the failed attempt to kill Hitler. This is history. Everyone knows that Hitler didn’t die until 1945. Knowing the end of the movie was a bit anti-climatic. The movie is not awful. It got a bad rap for something that was the studio’s fault.

Hearing Tom Cruise in his Americanized German dialogue was very distracting to me, except for the guy, Christian Berkel playing Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim. Was he in the same movie? He did dinner theater level acting. Just god-awful. Hearing everybody’s British accents and the lone American – Cruise – made me think that these guys were playing Nazi dress up. I couldn’t buy it all the way. At least, have some slight German accents. Oh, well.

Judgment: What’s the point? Hitler doesn’t die at the end. Oh, spoiler. Sorry.

Rating: **1/2

A Christmas Tale (2008)

I’ve heard nothing but good things about writer/director Arnaud Desplechin’s film, A Christmas Tale. Knowing the basic plot of the story, I was intrigued to see this movie. It has a Metacritic score of 84. What was something lost in translation or is this terrible mess of a film? Don’t get me wrong. I love French movies, but not all of them are brilliant. Case in point, this one.

The Vuillard family in this film makes the Burnham family in American Beauty look like the Brady Bunch. No lie. This family has been irrecoverably broken when the first son, Joseph develops a form of lymphoma and dies when he could not get a donor in time.

Fast forward thirty-five years, the middle son, Henri (Mathieu Amalric) is unceremoniously banished — excuse me, who banishes people anymore? What is it the 1500s? — from his family by his big sister, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) who is hoarding some unresolved animosity toward her brother. That might be a blessing in disguise because these people are batshit crazy. Literally.

Five years, Elizabeth is so eager to cut Henri out of his life, but she still talks about him during her therapy sessions. She is a complete basket case when her playwriting career didn’t take off the way it should, because of Henri’s dealing with stealing from the theater that housed her plays.

The unloving matriarch, Junon played by the regal Catherine Deneuve learns that she has refractory anemia attributed to her liver cancer diagnosis. The news leave her husband, Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) dumbfounded. Junon needs a bone marrow transplant to any chance to survive. Due to her rare blood type, she has to test her immediate family, which has to include Henri who lives with his cousin, Simon (Laurent Capelluto).

Upon hearing the Junon’s news, Elizabeth’s mentally unstable son, Paul (Emile Berling) has a break down, is hospitalized and tested. He is a match for a donor. He is released from the hospital pumped full of pharmaceutical drugs. He seems to know where his uncle works at even though they never seen each other before to invite him to spend time with the family during Christmastime.

To prepare for the inevitable fallout, Henri writes a letter to Elizabeth to tell her about being civil towards one another through his maniacal drunken ramblings. When the family comes together, they tend to be awkward and distant toward each other. The younger brother, Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) tries to be peacekeeper of the family. In a convenient twist, Henri is tested to be compatible as well. Dun-dun-dun. Junon has a choice; will she accept marrow from a grandson she barely knows or her son that she openly despises? Decisions, decisions.

The ultimate question to pose to you, dear reader, is what is the point of this movie? These people are horrible towards each other for seemingly no reason. They gave up on being a family. They are miserable human beings that make me not want to spend time with them. What were Desplechin intentions here? The central “mystery” of the movie was never solved. Throw the viewer a bone. You don’t have to spell it out. Give us something to work with. Why was Elizabeth so pissed at Henri? Why did she try to keep Paul away from him when they were in a room together?

The movie strives to be grandiose, but it hinges on the melodramatic. What the hell was up with the peephole camera transitions? That bothers the hell out of me. Do we need the subplot of Ivan’s lazy wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) try to have a fling with Simon? Who cares? This movie was 2 ½ hours long. It felt longer. It was agony.

Judgment: How could anybody recommend this movie?

Rating: * 1/2

Summer Hours (2008)

He said to choose anything. l couldn’t take advantage. l took something ordinary. What would l do with something valuable?

–Éloïse

Summer Hours that I vaguely heard about when it was released last year. A couple of my snobby friends absolutely loved this film. Seeing as that I recently got AT&T U-verse cable, I recorded it a couple of days ago. Since I had the best time at the movie theaters as of late, I thought I would check this movie out. I was left with one question after the end credits rolled, what did I gain from this movie?

Writer/director Olivier Assayas tells a quiet sotry about the Marly family where has gathered together to celebrate the 75th birthday of the matriarch, Hélène (Edith Scob). She lives in alone a deteriorating house after her husband dies years earlier. She holds on the precious heirlooms of her great-uncle, Paul.

The Marly children, the oldest Frédéric (Charles Berling), the only girl Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and little brother Jérémie (Jérémie Reiner) don’t reunite as much, because flighty Adrienne lives in New York designing stemware, I believe and Jérémie lives in China working for an athletic shoe company. Hélène confides in Frédéric about her wishes for how the estate will be divided on the event of her death, because he is the only one that is living near the family house. Frédéric doesn’t want to discuss the matter, because he thinks that she will have a couple of more years left.

After a trip to San Francisco to go to a book signing for her new release for a photo book, she dies. This brings the three children back together to figure out what to do with the house. There is a hefty estate tax. Adrienne and Jérémie wants to sell the house, because with their busy schedule, they wouldn’t be able to visit the house if they kept it. Frédéric has reservations about selling it, because what if their children want to go there with their children? What will happen to the priceless heirlooms?

I was expecting to be blown away by this movie. I thought it was going to be a great character study on this distant family coming together after the death of their mother. I didn’t get that at all. I didn’t learn anything about this family. Why should I care about this people that I don’t learn anything about them. They were just there. Talking. Why should I care about this family? Nothing happens. I wasn’t compelling. I wasn’t drawn to it. It was like watching paint dry.

I didn’t realize until after the movie was over that the film was funded by the Musée d’Orsay that would mentioned in the film. That’s makes so much sense to me now. It’s basically a wink-wink, nudge-nudge film for boost tourism at the local French museums. I think it’s a little manipulative.

Judgment: I could only suggest this film to people that are hardcore French art fans.

Rating: **

Hunger (2008)

Hunger is a movie that I have heard from on the Filmspotting podcast when themselves and various critics have put this movie on there top tens of 2008 and 2009. I have heard scant things about this movie, but I didn’t want it spoiled for me. In retrospect, I thought that this movie was magnificent debut film from Steve McQueen. (No, not that Steve McQueen.)

Taking place in Northern Ireland in 1981, the story deals with a couple of inmates at the Maze Prison that are held there by the government. They think that they are political prisoners, but the government doesn’t seem to think so. The prisoners are under a blanket/no wash protest until they get political prisoners status.

The story follows all side of the controversial moment by looking at the lives of prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), who is afraid of being murdered. He checks under his car for bombs, looking over his shoulders for assassins, etc. He is one of many guards that are taking the prisoners out one by one and beat them up for smuggling contraband into the prison. His knuckles become bloodier as the protests goes on.

Next, the action focus on a new Irish Republican Army prisoner, Davey (Brian Milligan) arrives at the prison refuses to wear the standard uniform. He is asked to take his clothes off, given a single blanket and have the walk of shame to his cell where he meets his cellmate, Gerry (Liam McMahon). Gerry is serving out a twelve year sentence, while Davey has only six. Looking around the room, Davey sees that Gerry has covered the walls of the cell in his own shit, putting his food in a slop corner on the floor and using his urine as a last act of defiance.

About thirty minutes into the film, we meet the main protagonist of the movie, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who is the mastermind of the protest. The reason why the guards are beating up the prisoners is they get their visitors to smuggle notes to the outside world by being a drug mule of sorts. Gerry gets his girlfriend to smuggle radio transmitter in her vagina.

The prison guards force the inmates out of their cells to beat them into giving up their seemingly lost cause. They perform cavity searches on them, getting them to wash and cut their hair. That breaks some of the inmates.

Regrouping for the cause, Bobby Sands wants to go on a hunger strike to make the point to get the Irish government to name them political prisoners. He calls for a local priest (Liam Cunningham) to come talk to him. It culminates in a riveting seventeen minute unbroken shot with Bobby and the priest discussing the morality of the hunger strike.

The next moments of the movie shows the effects of malnutrition does to the human body.

Today’s filmmakers are so keen on quick cuts and being overly glossy, but McQueen does something that is raw and real and hits you to the core. The movie is tough to watch, because it shows that one person’s sacrifice could mean a lot to others. Michael Fassbender gives a brave performance in this movie.

Not knowing the story of Bobby Sands and this era, I had trouble getting into why the events happened the way they did. Why did we focus on a prison guard? Why do we focus on a riot officer at one point? Being that this is an Irish movie, I had trouble understanding of what the people were saying, even though there is very little dialogue in the movie.

Judgment: I would suggest reading up this subject before seeing the movie.

Rating: ****

Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008)

Now listen up. Life is the script, Noah. You’re the writer of your own life. It’s time to take control.

— Brandy

I was a big fan of the Logo television show Noah’s Arc for its short two season run when it was unceremoniously “cancelled”. (See this is why you suck now, Logo.) I was happy that the big screen version of the show, Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom was released in the fall of 2008. I wanted to see it, but it didn’t have a wide release. Boo.

For the ninety percent of the population who don’t know about this show, let me give you a crash course. It’s the black gay version of Sex and the City. It follows four gay longtime friends: Noah (Darryl Stephens), the screenwriter and the central character of the group that has a unique sense of style. Next, is Alex (Rodney Chester), the outspoken divo of the group and HIV/AIDS advocate. There is Ricky (Christian Vincent), who is the manwhore of the group and owner of his own clothing store. Lastly there is the uptight patriarch of the group, Chance (Doug Spearman) who is a university professor.

The gang is in Martha’s Vineyard for the weekend, a long away from LA for the upcoming wedding of Noah and his boyfriend, Wade (Jensen Atwood) who were on/off throughout the series when a terrible accident changed things for the couple. Noah nursed Wade back to health between the season two finale and the start of this movie.

All of the friends are holed up in Wade’s family house, the Robinson House. Alex, Ricky and Chance are not hopeful about the speedy marriage between Noah and Wade, because of the accident.

Alex works himself into a tizzy coordinating the wedding that he has to take caffeine pills to keep up with demand. He skypes with his husband, Trey (Gregory Keith) who is at home with their newly adopted Ethiopian baby, Ojemodupe (Trevor Josiah Thomas) aka OJ.

Chance is having problems with his marriage to Eddie (Jonathan Julian) when one of Chance’s students, Brandon (Gary LeRoi Gray) who has a crush on him tags along with Ricky.

During their time in the house, the seeming stable relationships are thrown into turmoil when LA couldn’t stay their when Noah’s boss, Brandy (Jennia Fredrique) is constantly blowing up his phone asking for another rewrite of script starring a closted rapped named Baby Gat (Jason Steed) that is interested in Noah. He is the only one that is interested in him, Ricky is also harboring feelings for Noah ever since they first met from a failed hookup.

This movie is about being true to yourself, be true to who you love, be honest and all that mushy stuff. The movie is melodramatic with everybody’s relationship has to be in trouble to stretch out in order to fill a feature length movie, but I still enjoy it. I enjoyed that I had the chance to see this characters that I grown to love back together.

Judgment: I can’t recommend this movie unless you have seen both seasons before watching this.

Rating: ***1/2

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (2008)

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country is a documentary that has been getting rave reviews since the past summer. It was released in three theaters in May. It was recently nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary with a Metacritic score of 82; I wanted to check it out. I realized that the movie has been given a DVD release, so I had to watch the film online. (I wish that these documentaries are shown to the general public at least, so people don’t have to download torrents of it.)

Director Anders Østergaard reconstructs the events of a protest taking place in Burma circa 2007. The movie is constructed out of smuggled footage taken my small digital video cameras from 30 underground video journalists called the “Democratic Voice of Burma”. The leader of the group is called “Joshua” who is documenting the unrest of the Burmese people after a 40 year military regime is taken over their lives.

There was a well-documented uprising in 1988 where a student-led demonstration happened on the streets. They thought that they would get democracy in their country, but the regime had military force and gunned down three thousand of them.

The video journalists’ faces are hidden to protect themselves from jail time. In the summer of 2007, the people of Burma were fed up with the regime inflating the cost of living. Public unrest soon followed. The regime did not want any outside influences in their conflict. Any person that this is filming the protests who had their cameras confiscated, the footage destroyed and face a long jail sentence.

The VJs document the protest by hiding the cameras in tents or under their arms. They send the footage via the internet to outside news outlets like the BBC or CNN so they could find out the latest developments.

The people felt like all hope is lost when an unmistaken force joins the protest. Hundreds of Buddhist monks who don’t involve themselves in political activities marched, because they felt that the country was suffering and that they should do something about it. The presence of the monks inspires the people, a hundred thousand strong, to rise up against the corrupt regime.

I was fascinated by this movie. I never heard of this protest with all coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The movie was reconstructed and re-enacted from the footage of what happened. That didn’t take away from the impact of wanting change when all seems lost.

The first part of the doc was meh in my opinion. Hearing “Joshua’s” broken English didn’t help matters that much. When they got into the meat and potatoes of the documentary, that when it really revved up for me.

Judgment: This documentary is about a subject that you might not get to see without the determination of these fearless VJs.

Rating: ****1/2

Transsiberian (2008)

Kill off all my demons, Roy, and my angels might die, too.

— Jessie

Coming back from the gym on Saturday, I wanted to watch Steve Carrell’s movie, Dan in Real Life on TBS. When I was flipping through episode guide, I saw that Transsiberian was coming on at the same time on Showtime. I remember that Tassoula from Cinebanter had this movie on her top ten of 2008 list. I decided to watch this instead. I’m glad I did.

A couple that is having martial problems, Roy and Jessie (Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer) board the Transsiberian Express in Pekin, China. They just finished a six-day sister city mission by Roy’s church in the region to help the impoverished kids. This is their first trip together. They thought that they could put their turbulent home life behind them. During the numerous stops, Jessie would take pictures of the landscapes and the people that they encounter.

On one of the scheduled stops, another couple comes into their cabin, Carlos and Abby (Eduardo Noriega, Kate Mara). They said that they are coming from Japan teaching English and Spanish. Carlos is a travel nut who dragged Abby along with him non-stop for two years.

The younger adventurous couple’s tendencies rub off on Roy and Jessie. They bond over vodka in the dining car. They open themselves up with each other with their dreams of the future. Carlos tries to single out Jessie when he shows her some souvenirs in his bag.

At another layover, Roy’s obsession with trains leads him to be stranded there. Jessie doesn’t realize the fact until the train with chugging along. Jessie has a feeling that there is something not right about the couple that shares their cabin. She franticly tries to look for him from different people in Russia. Secrets are exposed, truths are revealed and the couples are thrown into chaos.

This movie is a slow burn. Try to survive for the first hour of the movie, then the movie kicks up into high gear. I can’t tell you whatever happens, because they would be a spoiler. I want you to experience that for yourself.

Judgment: If you need a good reason to see this movie, it’s Emily Mortimer. She deals with heavy material and she could handle it with ease. Absolute must-see.

Rating: ****

Let the Right One In (2008) – Revisited

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I was intending on re-watching Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In for my horror movie marathon, but I didn’t. I reviewed this movie before, but I did not give credit where credit was due to superior film that blows Twilight out of the water. Now, that the remake, Let Me In is coming soon, I wanted to shower my praise on this film again.

John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted his book about a young twelve-year-old Swedish boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) who is constantly bullied at school. He dreams of the day that he could strike back.

One night, young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves into the apartment next door to his with an older man, Håkan (Per Ragnar). The new neighbors are not what they seem be. You notice that at night, Hákan has a kit containing a butcher knife, funnel, old gas can, flashlight, jar of acid and a gas tank, killing people in a quiet place and draining their blood. You think that he was a mass murder, but he has his reasons.

Every night, Oskar talks to Eli at the jungle gym in the courtyard of their apartment complex. The peculiar Eli who never wears a coat in the dead of winter intrigues Oskar. He tries to get to know her, but she doesn’t open up.

What Oskar doesn’t know is that when Eli is hungry, her next meal is Jocke (Mikael Rahm). The viewer knows that she is a vampire, but nobody else knows except for Gösta, (Karl-Robert Lindgren), a spinster cat man who watched what Eli did.

Eli and Hákan’s lives begin to unravel when Eli and Oskar’s friendship continues to grow. They rely on each other to each other every thing. Eli teaches Oskar to stand up for himself against the bullies. In turn, Oskar teaches Eli how to be the kid that she once was.

I watched this the same time as Twilight. This is the far superior vampire movie, because it doesn’t have shimmering shinned vamps that scare creepily at you. This movie has so many layers to it that you don’t realize upon a second viewing. The stark snow covered landscape painted with red, vamps actually drinking blood, the subtle nuances of the relationship between Oskar, Eli and Hákan.

The remake, Let Me In, is not going to have the dark humor, the sexual awakenings of pre-pubescent children, child-to-children violence, the obsession with knives, blood, and the revelation about Eli. It won’t fly. It would just a sterilized version that will cater to a mainstream audience.

Judgment: This is not your tween vampire story. This one is actually good.

Rating: ****

The Ruins (2008)

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We’re being quarantined here. We’re being kept here to die.

— Amy

The Ruins is the next entry in my “Creep-A-Thon”. I do not know what this movie was about when I saw it. Judging by the poster, the ruins are going to get them. I was somewhat right. This is an interesting way to torture your characters.

Based on the book of the same name by Scott Smith, the movie is about four college age friends; Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and their girlfriends, Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), that are on vacation in Mexico. They are bored. They wanted to have a last hurrah before going back to school.

A German traveler, Mathias (Joe Anderson) befriends them and asks them to come along on a trek to long lost ancient Mayan temple that hasn’t been discovered yet. Mathias wants to find his older brother, Heinrich (Jordan Patrick Smith) that disappeared looking at the same area.

They travel to the remote place from a makeshift map with a friend of Mathias, Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas). When they arrive at the pyramid, the local Mayans in the area, Lead Mayan (Sergio Calderón), Mayan Bowman (Jesse Ramirez), Mayan Horsemen (Balder Moreno) confront the group.

The locals kill Dimitri and chase them to the top of the pyramid. They surround it. The group wants to know why the locals cannot let them down. Jeff thinks that they would be rescued because before they left Dimitri left another copy of the map with a couple of Greeks.

The more time that the group stays up there, the more the pyramid wants to kill them.

I thought that this is a departure from the typical horror movie. That was no human killing them. It’s a plant. I know that sounds lame, but I thought it was more intriguing of a concept. The psychological effects that being near the vines are doing to them. By the way, doesn’t the growth on the temple look like marijuana?

Judgment: It’s a different type of horror movie to pique your interest.

Rating: ***1/2

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