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Synecdoche, New York(2008)
From the writer of Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is mounting a new play. His life catering to suburban blue-hairs at the local regional theater in Schenectady, New York is looking bleak. His wife Adele (Catherine Keener) has left him to pursue her painting in Berlin, taking their young daughter Olive with her. Worried about the transience of his life, he leaves his home behind. He gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in New York City, hoping to create a work of brutal honesty. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a growing mockup of the city outside. The years rapidly fold into each other, and Caden buries himself deeper into his masterpiece, but the textured tangle of real and theatrical relationships blurs the line between the world of the play and that of Caden's town deteriorating reality.
For more about Synecdoche, New York and the Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray release, see Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 11, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest
Director: Charlie Kaufman
» See full cast & crew
Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray Review
Weird and unwieldy, Kaufman's directorial debut is decidedly uneven...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 11, 2009
Is there any actor in Hollywood right now that's more mesmerizing, more daring, or more committed to his craft than Philip Seymour Hoffman? Looking back over his career, it's difficult to argue otherwise. Aside from a few forgettable misfires (Along Came Polly chief among them), Hoffman has blazed an award-winning trail through the industry with simmering performances in ensemble pieces like Magnolia, character dramas like 25th Hour, biopics like Capote, stage-play adaptations like Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (a personal favorite), and, most recently, Oscar-nominated fare like Doubt. To put it bluntly, writer/director Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is worth serious attention... if for no other reason than to watch Hoffman sink his teeth into a surreal, ambiguous, and truly eccentric mindtrip.
Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a stage director helming a small production of Death of a Salesman who struggles with depression, an increasing disinterest in his wife (Catherine Keener), and a strange degenerative condition. Long before she disappears to Berlin, Caden's eye has been set on another woman, a theatre employee named Hazel (Samantha Morton). When the disheveled dreamer receives a limitless grant for artistic endeavors, he occupies a mammoth warehouse and begins assembling a cast for a inconceivably complex production -- an exacting recreation of the city, its occupants, and everyday life. However, his marriage to a beautiful actress (Michelle Williams), frequent visits to a therapist (Hope Davis), and continued friendship with Hazel can't quell his swirling mind or stop his illness from shutting down his autonomic functions. Weeks turn to years and years turn to decades as Caden retreats into his elaborate project and attempts to create a life he could never have in the outside world.
While comparisons to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (an excellent film penned by Kaufman himself) are sure to fill most discussion boards, Synecdoche, New York quickly distances itself from the writer's other films by subverting both stage and screen with several heart-wrenching subplots, an underlying sense of dread, and the unmistakable presence of death in every frame. Its story isn't as timeless or emotional, and Caden certainly isn't as sympathetic as Jim Carrey's Joel, but it encapsulates the drive of Kaufman's directorial debut. As you'd expect, Hoffman carries the film at every turn; the camera rarely leaving his downtrodden face. His expressiveness is subtle, but he keeps his character's shaky intentions and emotional vulnerability brimming just beneath the surface where we can see them. While I wouldn't say it's a groundbreaking role, it does serve as another standout performance from an actor who's spent his career challenging his own monumental talent.
It's just a shame that Kaufman isn't as talented a director as he is a writer. While his characters' conversations are revealing and the structure of his tale packs plenty of sleight-of-hand surprises, he sometimes forgets to inject any real heart into the story. I'm not a big fan of sentimentality, but I often felt as if I was witnessing an exercise in eccentricity rather than a fully developed film. Odd doesn't even begin to describe the manner in which Synecdoche unravels and navigates his overwrought script. Kaufman is a brilliant writer -- I would go to the mat to defend everything else the man has ever touched -- but he seems to take on too many responsibilities this time around, delivering an incoherent production. Like writer/director Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, Synecdoche tries to be more relevant and meaningful than it actually is. It's so disjointed and confusing at times, that it neglects its audience. In fact, by the time its clunky third act concluded, I didn't know what to think or feel. Even after watching it a second time, I can't wrap my head around what Kaufman was actually aiming to accomplish with such a sprawling, surrealist nightmare.
I really enjoyed watching Hoffman disappear behind Caden's face (enough so that I bumped up my score a bit higher) and I even found myself admiring the sheer scope of Kaufman's vision... I just couldn't step into Caden's world or connect with his companions without a lot of mental work. I'm sure there are people out there who will adore the morose lunacy of it all, but I'm not one of them. Give it a rent and see if it appeals to your sensibilities more than it did mine.
Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray, Video Quality
I expected Synecdoche, New York to be a drab and colorless affair, but I didn't expect its 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer to be so indicative of the film's ambiguous tone and direction. Despite some consistency issues, the palette is surprisingly warm, skintones are natural, and blacks are well resolved. Contrast is attractive throughout as well, giving the Blu-ray image considerably more depth and dimensionality than its standard DVD counterpart. Detail may disappoint some viewers -- a variety of shots are downright soft, textures aren't as refined as I had hoped they would be, and shadow delineation is often overly oppressive -- but I got the distinct impression that Kaufman didn't want his opus to look any other way. While it still looks much better than the DVD, it certainly isn't as sharp as other Sony releases. Don't get me wrong: I could overlook shortcomings derived from the director's intentions, but the disc also struggles with some technical issues. Black crush is a frequent problem, minor artifacting splinters portions of the image on a handful of occasions, and source noise appears in several darker sequences. Still, Synecdoche, New York looks pretty good. It may not boast the wow-factor of other recent titles, but it gets the job done.
Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Synecdoche, New York is an unsettling study of silence and atmosphere just as much as it is an exploration of Caden's disjointed mind. As such, Sony's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track delivers a subdued soundscape that probably won't impress anyone but the most hardened audiophiles. Dialogue is thankfully pitch perfect, remaining strong and stable even when the characters' voices fail them. Precise prioritization ensures lines are never lost in the mix or overwhelmed by any other elements of the soundscape. LFE support is minimal at best, but pipes up whenever called upon. Likewise, the rear speakers are largely relegated to faint ambience, but enhance the acoustic properties of each interior space. Ah well, at least its pans are smooth and directionality (what little there is of it) is spot on. Ultimately, while the overall soundfield is relatively immersive considering the nature of Kaufman's tale, the front-heavy sound design hinders the experience and leaves the disc's video transfer to shoulder most of the AV burden.
Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Synecdoche, New York includes all of the special features that appear on the standard DVD release and even presents a portion of them in high definition. I was terribly disappointed to discover the ever-elusive Charlie Kaufman didn't provide a filmmaker's commentary, but I was pleased to find he at least stepped out of the shadows over the course of several interviews.
Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Synecdoche, New York is tough to sit through at times; its dense plotting, jarring shifts, and quirky developments never came together as a cohesive whole. Thankfully, Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance (as well as those from the the film's leading ladies) makes it worth watching at least once. Alas, the Blu-ray edition is slightly hit-or-miss as well. It features a faithful but underwhelming video transfer, a subtle but quiet lossless audio track, and a truncated collection of supplements. All in all, give it a try and see if it belongs on your shelf.
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Synecdoche, New York Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Synecdoche, New York Announced for Blu-ray - December 29, 2008
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Charlie Kaufman film 'Synecdoche, New York' to Blu-ray on March 10th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Both written and directed by the famous writer, video will be presented in 2.35:1 1080p ...
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