DVD Reviews: Synecdoche, Telstar, Dead Snow, Is Anybody There?

November 29, 2009

Synecdoche, New York

I enjoyed Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine and Adaptation a lot so I was quite curious to see what Charlie Kaufman had been up to here.  Of course, Kaufman has always come dangerously close to self-indulgent but he has always managed to walk that tightrope by balancing this out with big helpings of humour and imagination.

So, if a screenwriter disappears up his own arse but that arse turns out to be the arse of an actor playing the screenwriter, will the audience give a shit?  The answer on the evidence of this film is: No.

The premise is certainly compelling to begin with.  Hoffman plays Caden, a writer and director of pretentious plays who decides to direct the mother of all plays: he’s going to recreate large chunks of New York in a huge warehouse.  As inevitably as M Night Shayamalan must have a twist at the end, Kaufman’s screenplays must start to eat their own tail.  It’d be a spoiler to explain how it eats itself but it does and the mindfucking begins.

During the film there are scenes as awful as the worst teenage poetry, dialogue that sounds like it’s meant to be profound but really is just wallowing in self-pity and misery.  Is Kaufman serious or is he mocking the pretentious director?  On reflection I believe he’s being sincere, which is very worrying.

Further, what’s notable about Caden is that he is performing and acting out a play with no audience.  Similarly Kaufman appears to have had little or no thought for an audience in constructing this movie.

Synecdoche is certainly a curiosity, but not one that I’d recommend you seek out.  This movie is self-absorbed, alienating and pretentious.


I’m a big fan of Joe Meek’s work and have been long fascinated by his story.

Meek was a brilliant but troubled sound engineer who decided to start his own record label at the start of the sixties, something unheard of at the time.  He searched for acts, co-wrote the songs, recorded them, engineered them and arranged publicity and tours from a two floor flat in Holloway Road.

Meek was rather successful and had several hit singles, including Telstar which was the first British single to reach number one in America.  Unfortunately Meek also had his problems such as his explosive temper and a voracious sexual appetite (which would have been less of a problem if he wasn’t gay at a time when it was basically illegal).

Telstar is a cheap but brave effort to try to recreate the period.  It feels more like a BBC TV drama than a movie and the script clearly shows it’s theatrical roots.  The opening of the movie is clunky in the way it introduces it’s characters, almost as if they’re being announced at a dinner party but almost gets away with it by being fast-paced and fun.  Similarly the rest of the movie charms it’s way through many of the usual music bio-pic cliches.  Unfortunately that charm doesn’t hold up so well during the darker parts of the story.

I was already very familiar with the story of Joe Meek so I thought it was rather unfortunate that they’d taken off the rougher edges of Meek’s personality to make him more sympathetic.  This was understandable but I thought it was a shame that the audience wasn’t trusted a little more.

Anyway, it’s enjoyable enough but I can’t help but feel that it’s a missed opportunity.

Is Anybody There?

Michael Caine plays a retired magician who books himself into an old peoples home. The young son of the woman who owns the home has a morbid fascination with death.  Eventually they get to know each other and important life lessons are learned, or something like that.

It is in fact a very sweet film with a great cast and script. It may be a little predictable but it doesn’t out stay it’s welcome.

Dead Snow

Nazi Zombies in the snow!

There’s every zombie cliche known to man in this film.  But who gives a shit, it’s about Nazi zombies and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.


3 Responses to “DVD Reviews: Synecdoche, Telstar, Dead Snow, Is Anybody There?”

  1. Ardiril Says:

    I watched Synechdoche and Inland Empire within days of each other and parallels abound, almost as if they were ripping off each other. Lynch comes off as far less narcissistic than Kaufmann (an illusion I will grant you), but then Kaufmann himself cannot reach the high hurdle of Stephen King’s injecting himself into his Dark Tower series.

    Overall, I think this was the wrong script for Kaufmann to pop his director’s cherry, however now that it’s done, the experience can’t help but prove favorable on future projects.

  2. barkingstars Says:

    I’ve not got plans to see Inland Empire – it sounds a bit too, um, challenging.

    But yeah, I hope this is a deviation for Kaufmann rather than his new direction.

  3. Ardiril Says:

    “I’ve not got plans to see Inland Empire”

    It is a major investment in time, concentration, frustration and tolerance.

    … but *LAURA DERN*!!!

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