After writing news stories about the tragic death of the actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, I realized that I barely knew his work outside of a few roles in films such as The Ides of March and Catching Fire. Admittedly, he was great in both but it urged me to draw further into his filmography. Oddly however, I chose somewhat abstract, scewed films that were mostly unappreciated by the public: The Master and Synecdoche, New York (with a cheeky review of Blue Valentine included just for fun).
What seemed to be a signature element of Hoffman’s films were that his characters were honest. They could be the cruelest or shadiest characters in the film but they were remarkably believable; he carried a charm that failed to stop you liking him.
The first of the films is The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix (star of film, Her) and Amy Adams alongside Hoffman in this 50s cult drama. The Master revolves around the lives of socially isolated World War 2 veterans and their attempt to coexist in civilization. Hoffman stars as the The Master, the head of a cult believing in curing the problems of people by delvinig in past lives which ultimately draws in Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell. Having watched the film, I found it surprising that Philip was nominated as a supporting actor as he dominated whichever scene he appeared in; so much so that I felt the film was written around him rather than Phoenix. This film was a spectacle of acting talent with some notable scenes leaving a presence on my mind for days after.
A bewitching performance by him counted towards an equally sumptuously shot movie, in 65mm film. I found, in my opinion that this film was mostly a character study than a movie; the plot doesn’t have a straight narrative of a point A to point B but rather, it jumps about and observes the actions of the ever so creepy, Freddie Quell and fellow members of the cult. This style of film may have put off audience members as this failed to take off and break even at its $30million budget but it is a powerful film that needs to be witnessed.
Synecdoche, New York
Having heard nothing about this film I would like to thank my colleague, Stuart Johnston, for getting the word out about this film. Like many, I am struggling to keep this review, spoiler free as it’s so complex; very much a cerebral film that needs to be seen at least twice. This film is fixed partially around the life of Caden Cotard (Hoffman), an ailing theatre director who morbidly believes he is about to die, with his love life a mess and family life in tatters. A very messy divorce urges him to pursue the most ambitious and grandiose attempt at theatre to hopefully make his life worthwhile. He attempts to make a massive stage for actors to act out assigned lives 24/7. Overtime this effort encloses him and muddles the boundaries between reality and illusionary which is what makes this film so intricate and clever.
Like Cotard, I feel the debut director, Charlie Kaufman is both mesmerized and crushed by the effort that was put into the film. At times this film is self-indulgent and asks questions about where the narrative is going; the time span is spread over a few decades and through commentary and prostetics it is cleverly explained to the viewer. I felt however intricate the narrative was, it seemed almost farcical at times, scewing off to very weird tangents that seem unexplained. The audacity of making such a film is a double edged sword as it may be an imaginative, brilliant, darkly funny piece of cinema; it may also be sporadically changing directions every few minutes. This film is a very good example of thinking of a concept and running with it, seeing how far it will go no matter what. However baffled I was after the viewing, I was spellbound by Hoffman and felt inclined to see how the film would end; very few films have the courage to tell such a tell as Synecdoche, which is why I ask you to watch this – buy it on DVD or Blu Ray if possible to experience this movie.
Bonus film – Blue Valentine
In what’ll be the biggest let down for teenage girls everywhere, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have not made a Notebook 2.0. I found it refreshing to find this film was not a soppy love letter to Chaning Tatum but rather an in your face depiction of real life relationships. At times sweet and other times darkly real, I find it hard not to feel emotionally invested in this film. Both leads put in a stellar job with the story set in the past and present versions of themselves in a relationship.
Lasting around the two hour mark, I admittedly found the sequences in the past to be more entertaining than the at times, intense present. The camera-work is at times, excruciatingly up close to the characters which contributes to the dark undertones of the film; yet another Gosling indie film that has to be seen.
Here is a quick snippet from the film.