October 28, 2008


Synecdoche, New York

A friend casually asked me if I'd heard anything about the latest Charlie Kauffman film (written and directed by him) called Synecdoche, New York (IMDb) (click here to watch the trailer at apple). This was a surprising question, because I had no knowledge of a new Charlie Kauffman film, much less that it was one with which he was making his directorial debut.

I don't think I could be any more curious about this film. I wondered: what is a synecdoche? How do I pronounce that? Fortunately the website for the film answers these questions explaining a synechdoche (pronounced “si-nek-duh-kee”) is a part of something that can stand for the whole for which the whole can also stand for that part. Kaufman has imagined this concept on a tremendous scale. I'm trying not to learn too much about this film before seeing it, but it seems to be a story about a theater-director who has built a life-size replica of Manhattan as part of some epochal play as a way to create something of lasting importance. With Phillip Seymore Hoffman playing the main role, and Kaufman for the first time directing, I can only wonder just how unique this movie will be.

Some things I've discovered online are curious; for instance, the word 'synecdoche,' the title, is a pun on the city of Schenectady, New York, which is where the film is set, which is where Hoffman's character builds a life-size replica of Manhattan (or a portion of) which in real life happens to have a GE plant that has the zip code 12345. How bizarre? Coincidence?

Kaufman likes to examine extraordinary ideas in his films...like what would happen if someone discovered a secret door that once passed through the traveler found themselves in control of a moderately well-known actor -Being John Malkovich. Or, what if instead of making an adaptation of a novel, making a film about his attempts to make an adaption, beginning mostly grounded in reality but adapting into a fictional adventure – Adaptation (IMDb). Or, what would happen if a man decides he didn't really want to forget all traces of his love as he's undergoing a mental erasure procedure to delete all traces of her from his memory so instead sets about planting clues in other parts of his memory while undergoing the process to help him find her again -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

...Thinking about a life-size 'synecdoche' of Manhattan makes me remember being a kid and being overwhelmed with New York City; there was a majesty about it that's hard to define. I analyzed photo books and axonometric maps of the more distinct structures in preparation for visiting the city that to me seemed from another world. And as a tourist often does, I remember holding a small plastic version of the Empire State Building, the likes of which is to be found in every major city having some epochal man-made structure, such as the Eiffel Tower, or Big Ben, or St. Louis's Gateway to the West, etc. That figurine, mass-produced in a chinese factory and sold in the thousands to willing tourists, is on a small scale is what I'm reminded of by the idea of Synecdoche, New York.

I am really excited to see this movie, but as its only showing in NYC and LA at the moment and I can find no indication when it will broaden its theater horizons, who knows when I'll actually get a chance to see Synecdoche New York? I am so intrigued by this movie, I might have to find a way to justify a trip to NYC just to see it. Anyways, what better a place to watch a film about someone building a replica of the very same city.

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October 14, 2008


Indy Horror for October

I always feel like October is a great time to catch up on scary movies. Since there is no short supply of mainstream horror flick to check out I thought I'd make three independent horror recommendations: Severance, The Decent, and The Signal. Indy films, especially indy horror films, usually have to find more innovative ways to capture your attention, which is why I think you usually end up with a better film.

I remember almost seeing Severance (IMDb) at the 2006 Asheville Film Festival. Fortunately it made it to dvd. The story follows a group of civilian military weapons contractors on a tour across Europe to promote their products. While in route they become lost in the wilderness and ultimately targets of mysterious paramilitary sociopaths. It definitely has gory moments mixed with pretty funny dark comedy.

The Decent (IMDb) features an almost all female cast (not necessarily including the creatures in the caves) in a story about a group of female friends who regularly get together for some outdoors activities. For this particular excursion, which is set a year after the principle character lost her son in a auto accident, the friends go on a spelunking trip in unexplored caverns somewhere in rural Appalachian country. They become trapped and soon realize there are other creatures somewhat like humans stalking them in the dark. Overall very similar in concept to Alien, or The Thing; its a pretty frightening movie with some unexpected plot turns.

The Signal (IMDb) fits into the same mold as recent pandemic-survival films like the 'Happening' or 'I Am Legend' except that the story is told in three segments, each with a different kind of feel, and each from a different character's point of view. The first and third segment are mostly thrilling and unnervingly gory; the second segment is more of a dark comedy – of course, still very dark and grizly. The Signal is not gratuitously violent like the Hostel films, but it is disturbingly violent. And despite being an indy project; the filming quality, locations, and special effects live up to big-budget standards. So if you like films like 28 Days later, or the Zach Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead, check out The Signal.

The story focuses on two lovers who part and plan on reuniting on New Years Eve. As the story begins a strange transmission is broadcasting through all major communication mediums as a colorful static on televisions and as static sounds on phones – thus eliminating all major methods of mass communication and preventing any warning from authorities or further information on what to do in the situation. The transmission also has an effect on anyone who's come in contact with it (which is pretty much everyone in a modern urban setting) causing them to become increasingly violent delusional and irrational towards each other -- which leads to an obvious pandemonium. The story is an interesting allegory on how dependent modern society is on the technology of modern communication.

There are similarities to the events in M. Night Shymalan's 'The Happening' (released after The Signal) but since the condition being experienced by society in The Signal is affecting everyone in the story there is an added thrill wondering just how affected are the characters. Its also worth noting that Stephen King has a novel with a similar pretenses called 'Cell'. In that story, something in cell-phone transmissions causes people to become violent and altered in a way similar to the to socially resemble the vampire hive-communities in I Am Legend. Its also worth mentioning that filming for The Signal started before the publication of King's 'Cell'.


Wii possibilities

A few weeks ago while my friend Robert was in town I finally snagged a copy of MarioKart for Wii. I've been very impressed so far with Wii's games, most espicially the games created by Nintendo. The game is leaps and bounds ahead of previous Mario Karts. The Nintendo 64 version was the one my friends in college played frequently when we needed to avoid studying. What I believe makes the Wii version better aside from excellent playability and visuals is the ability to play against actual humans from across the world through Nintendo's internet service.

If I have one gripe about the Wii it is the under-captilization of its potential. Specifically the Virtual Console has a huge potential to tap into old schoolers like myself – those who grew up on the classic platform (a.k.a side-scrolling) games of the 80s and 90s. The tiled Wii menu is pratically a museum environment for playing the games we grew up on. Younger gamers just don't have the appreciation for those older side-scrolling games, which is to be expected. Most hard core gamers today seem totally immersed in First-Person-Shooters (FPS), like Halo, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, MMORPGs for short (like Word of War Craft, more commonly abbreviated as WOW). As I recall Goldeneye was the game that really caused an explosion in mainstream popularity of the FPS genre. And Goldeneye is a great example of a game missing in the Virtual Consol. Its certainly a game I would love to play again had I the chance.

There are some excellent games available ... Metal Slug, Contra III, most Super Mario games and Sonic the Hedgehogs. I see that Nintendo has just released one of my favorites on the VC: The Secret of Mana. But there are so many games still not included that has me wondering why. So here's a list of the games I would like to see released on the VC:
  • Contra (NES)
  • Contra 4 (Genesis)
  • Contra Force (NES)
  • Mickey's Castle of Illusion (Genesi)
  • Castlevania: Dracula X (SNES)
  • the Final Fight sequels (SNES)
  • Magic Sword (SNES)
  • Castlevania 3 (NES)
  • The Secret of Mana 2 (SNES - it was never released in the USA)
  • Blaster Master (NES)
  • Duck Tales (NES)
  • Blaster Master 2 (Genesis)
  • Bubsy (SNES and/or Genesis)
  • Goldeneye (N64)
  • Perfect Dark (N64)

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