Daily Archives: October 16, 2008

Of Time and the City

It seems incredible that Terence Davies, the greatest living English filmmaker, has made only five features in two decades. His first documentary, a multifaceted, mesmerizing, and eloquent essay about his native Liverpool, is as autobiographical and as intensely personal as his Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992), so that his evolution as a lapsed Catholic and as a homosexual are as operative here as his working-class background and his taste in music and cinema. Being made up chiefly of found footage, this film lacks the mise en scene of its predecessors, but it has the added benefit of Davies’ voice-over narration, which, thanks to his training and experience as an actor, has an enormous performative power. (Check out the witty way he conveys his disdain for the Beatles through his delivery of one of their best-known refrains.) 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

Synecdoche, New York

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) makes his directorial debut with this feature, but it seems more like an illustration of his script than a full-fledged movie, proving how much he needs a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to realize his surrealistic conceits. Tortured and torturous, it centers on a theater director from Schenectady (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who wins a MacArthur Fellowship but whose wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him; in response he tries to create a play that will represent his entire life experience, building a replica of New York City inside a warehouse. The usually resourceful Hoffman can’t sustain interest even after developing a receding hairline to make him resemble Jack Nicholson, and the other able players—Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Tom Noonan, Hope Davis, and Jennifer Jason Leigh—mainly tread water. R, 124 min. (JR)… Read more »

24 City

As evidenced by everything from Trouble the Water to WALL-E to Wendy and Lucy, the disastrous effects of unchecked capitalism may be the most urgent contemporary theme in movies. The brilliantly innovative Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (Platform, The World, Still Life) has been able to create works of historical relevance partly because he considers this theme from the vantage point of a socialism that, far from being theoretical, is part of a complex lived experience. This beautiful and challenging documentary looks at a military factory in Chengdu that’s shutting down to make way for a luxury apartment complex, and in interviewing five former workers and three fictional characters (played by Joan Chen, Lu Liping, and his frequent collaborator Zhao Tao), Jia manages to convey how three generations are affected by this change. In Mandarin with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »