A Slice of Fried Gold

The movie onslaught continues

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I continue my barrage upon the movies of 2008, tearing through them at an alarming rate. As I had went from watching a movie a day to basically one movie ever couple weeks over the past few years, it's a big change to watch as many as I have lately. Between the hours of of 11 PM Christmas night and 2 AM last night, I watched five movies. They were Seven Pounds, Slumdog Millionaire (for the third time in six days), Valkyrie, Synecdoche, New York, and Definitely, Maybe.

I'm going to do ten cent reviews of them in order of best to worst, quickly giving you a heads up on them, as it continues my theme of watching way too many movies. However, not going to review Slumdog again and I'm going to skip Definitely, Maybe as it's been out for quite sometime (although I was pleasantly surprised by it, very cute movie).

Valkyrie (Directed by Bryan Singer, written by Christopher McQuarrie, starring Tom Cruise and a slew of great British actors)

I was going to start this review by saying I'm surprised by how good of a movie this was, but that doesn't really seem fair. It's a movie crafted by the directing/writing duo of the Usual Suspects. It stars Tom Cruise (admittedly a nutjob, but a nutjob who perpetually makes movies that at the very least entertain me) and a virtual who's who of elite British thespians, ranging from Shakespeare's favorite modern actor (Kenneth Branagh), to the ultimate worm (Bill Nighy), to everyone's favorite occasionally cross dressing comedian (Eddie Izzard), to one of the coolest people on the planet (Terence Stamp), to perhaps one of the five or ten best actors around (Tom Wilkinson). In short, it's pedigree is pretty incredible.

The pieces are there for it to be great, and the plot is stellar, following a radical group within the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler who are plotting to overthrow Hitler and his associates. Do the pieces equal the sum of their parts?

For the most part yes, as throughout the two hours, I was glued to screen, knowing that they wouldn't be successful (I'm fairly certain it would have been a big deal if the midst of World War II, the German people overthrew Hitler - you may have heard of that) but enjoying it no less. It's a very well made film, full of tension and great performances.

One distracting thing is the fact that while the actors may not need to speak German, I expected at least German accents. We didn't even get that, as all of the British actors sounded like themselves and Tom Cruise sounded like...Tom Cruise. It was like Ethan Hunt with an eye patch and limbs that were disfigured was trying to overthrow Hitler. Jarring, but surprisingly very good.

Valkyrie: B

Synecdoche, New York (Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and a bevy of beautiful actresses)

Just as unsurprising as Valkyrie being quality was, this movie being an absolute (excuse my french friends and family members, because this term works too well here) mindfuck was pretty predictable. Kaufman without the balance Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry normally provides was going to be pretty out there assuredly, and this was somewhat surprising in the degree of craziness this reached.

Example: at one point, there was a scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman looked on at Dianne Wiest portraying Hoffman's character who was directing another actor playing Wiest's representation of Hoffman at the funeral of the actor who originally played Hoffman's character in the play about himself that was the basis of the film, an actor who died when he fell in love with the real version of the character he was supposed to be in love with.

My brain resisted writing that. Greatly. It made no sense to type. It made more sense watching it, but seriously, that movie was insane. While it was extremely well acted (Hoffman with Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Dianne Wiest, Samantha Morton, and Emily Watson? Come on now. That's cheating.) and had a brilliant visual style to match typical scripted panache Kaufman brings, but it made too little sense to be considered a great film.

The first half before Hoffman's theater director character received his grant worked way better, as the second half lost all sense of grounding and time (intentionally I'm sure). This will assuredly get better with repeat viewings, but it's so impenetrable that one has to wonder whether or not it's even worth it. It's worth watching, but be afraid. Be very afraid.

Synechdoche, New York: C+

Seven Pounds (Directed by Gabriele Muccino, written by Grant Nieporte, starring Will Smith and Rosario Dawson)

This movie doesn't deserve a full review. It's illogical, manipulative, frustrating, and altogether stupid. I think Will Smith is perhaps the single most charming actor around, and I outright disliked his character. It was drab looking, overstylized, and fraudulently emotional.

The only thing that saves it from an outright F is the fact that they played a really good Muse song that I had never heard before and Rosario Dawson apparently was unaware of the fact she was in a terrible movie and gave a great performance. Good for her, bringing her A game in a movie that didn't quite match her effort.

Seven Pounds: D-


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