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Chinese Synecdoche Reviews . . .

Posted by 2 Dollar Productions Monday, November 24, 2008

Most things are easy to classify and review. The new Italian restaurant up the street or a TV sitcom or the Paris Hilton sex video are quantifiable entities that invite criticism.

Quite simply, you can get your arms around them and place them in some kind of context and then discuss whether they succeeded or failed spectacularly (Hilton couldn't even play a strumpet very believably).

The new Charlie Kaufman film - "Synecdoche, New York" - and the just released Guns N Roses album - "Chinese Democracy" - do not fit so easily into this traditional mold.

I saw 'Synecdoche' this past weekend hoping it would be at least as good as "Being John Malkovich," possibly as fine as "Adaptation" and if everything came together, it could even surpass "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" on Kaufman's cinematic resume. All three of these films had moments of greatness and all featured time-trippy narratives that bounced around large ideas before ultimately wrapping things up.

'Sunshine' was the best of the lot because it actually had a third act, a satisfying conclusion that the others lacked which is often where Kaufman's scripts go sideways because he is unable to bring all his grandiose ambitions together into a reasonable ending.

This brings us to 'Synecdoche,' a film which wrestles with weighty topics such as death and mortality, human connection and loneliness, health and sex, and many others along its two-hour running time. Mostly, it's preoccupied with death. This focus drives the man character, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to stage a huge production of his life as well as hundreds of other people interacting and living inside a monstrous New York stage set that comes to double for life itself and blurs the distinction.

This is a decades-long trek to create a true reality occurs after Hoffman receives a large monetary grant to stage an original play. Hoffman's real life and his "real life" on the stage cross-over frequently, an intentional device that is somewhat confusing, but understandable in the context of the film.

The stage production continues to parallel Hoffman's own aging, and lots of death occurs in both realities as we follow along a path that is often about loss.

This would be fine if 'Synecdoche' could ever manage to wrap these ideas into a coherent, powerful conclusion, but the never-ending stage production just kept plodding along the circle of life. I was really rooting for Kaufman to bring these elements together and wrench a cathartic and spectacular finale, one that would redeem the earlier film which was excellent in spots, interesting in others, yet somewhat disconnected for vast stretches.

Unfortunately, 'Synecdoche' never quite pulled it together, and so the opportunity for an outstanding product was lost. But you have to give it points for trying to tackle such difficult topics in a wholly original way.

The new Guns N Roses album overlaps with 'Synecdoche' because it has taken more than a decade to complete and has been driven at the hands of a single person who is an extreme perfectionist in certain circles and a megalomaniacal lunatic in others.

I plan to pick up "Chinese Democracy" at lunch today because of my curiosity about this long-gestating project. Is it any good? What on it took almost 15 years to complete? There are many questions, but the problem lies in the fact that this could be the finest music album of the year and it would still be disappointing because of the time duration and bizarre circumstances surrounding its making.

Again, it's damn near impossible to review. But the only review that really counts is whether or not I like it, and if it was worth paying $11.99 at Best Buy. It's worth rolling the dice because of just how stellar "Appetite for Destruction" was and continues to be, and "Use Your Illusion 1 & 2" are awfully good too. We'll see how Axl Rose can do sans any original G N R members I suppose.

Personally, I'm ready to see or hear something that I can discuss with certainty, a product that lends itself to definitive criticism because it's far easier to bag on Paris Hilton than it is to grapple with these other things.



  1. Heff Says:
  2. I've got a 10 spot that says it's gonna suck.

  3. From the little bit I've heard so far, the new Gunners album, not gonna be good. If you wanna buy it, don't let me stop you. It's just that some musicians need the studio and the production to show off their talent, while others, benefit from a more raw and pure sound.
    How does this bring us to Guns N' Roses? I'll tell you. AfD was a stellar record. Few are it's equal. One of the reasons it shines so brightly is the raw sound. It is not over-produced, unlike UYI, at times is hurt by the production. The old Gunners were a band that were best when they were bad, not when they were good. 15 years of working and re-working songs can lead to a more professional sound. And that's just not Guns N' Roses.

    You want professional recording, pick up something by the London Philharmonic. This, however, this is rock 'n roll. The dirtier the better.

  4. Heff Says:
  5. Wow. I'm pretty impressed with WIGSF's comment, because...He's right.

  6. TROLL Says:
  7. Never heard anyone (other than his publicists) describe Axl Rose as an " perfectionist" or use that alleged trait to explain the long-delay. I have heard lazy, cranky, drug-addled, disorganized, and sickly. My sources say large numbers of musicians who take pride in their work explored working with Axl. Only to have him fail to show-up to meetings or show-up late, drunk and hostile.

    As for future critiques, you could probably write a good one for the Finale of "The Shield". It certainly deserves a thoughtful analysis. If you write a good one, I'll reprint it at The Troll Report.

    It's a show that explores those "big themes" that writers like you want. I like it cause of the explosions, car-chases, and gun-fights!

  8. Heff - Damn. That would just about pay for the album. I'll let you know as I'm going to listen to it on my drive up for Thanksgiving.

    WhatIgot - Excellent analysis. I don't have particularly high expectations for 'Democracy' - it's more like morbid curiosity. Then again, I don't think it will just stink like two-week old mackerel either. I could be wrong. And I figure you're definitely right about it being overproduced. Again, nice argument.

    Heff - I agree too.

    TheTroll - I love 'The Shield.' My wife & I have watched every season (Money Train one was the best), and this has been a fitting finale season. I'm pissed because I'm traveling Tuesday & won't get to watch the finale live, so please don't leave any clues over this way as I'm trying to avoid any mention of it until I can watch it on Tivo this coming weekend. If you can wait for a review until next week, then I will definitely send one as that show deserves comment. It's been great.

  9. JLee Says:
  10. There is nothing worse than a bad ending to a movie that has promise. I hate a big letdown. As far as GNR, I thought Slash was involved in this venture as well? Maybe not. I would not have high hopes, but you never know...

  11. I doubt that Chinese Democracy will be any good. If it were, wouldn't there be more buzz generated about it with the files that were leaked a few months ago? Other than the buzz of 'it's finally done' that is?

  12. A.B. Says:
  13. eeeks, deep thoughts this weekend. I typically save these kind of movies for home viewing so I can stop and start, go back, etc.

    Are you watching TRUE BLOOD (hbo)? If we're giving suggestions for your reviews, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that show.

  14. Heff, you surprised? I'm not just all about pretentious British music. I can get down when with the best of 'em.

  15. Jlee - I agree as endings are tough to nail & most can't finish things off as well as they began (suppose this applies universally. Ha). And I don't believe Slash was involved in this GNR edition, however, there was a guy who wore a buck on his head playing guitar on certain parts. Seriously. I think.

    Native Minnow - I think that last bit of buzz you mentioned is the most accurate as it's more of a "Wow, this thing is actually/finally being released." My guess is that the disc is firmly OK, but that is a disappointment given the lengths taken to release the damn album.

    A.B. - I know what you mean about renting, but it was a gray weather weekend in Austin & it just felt right. Ha. I can't say it was a great or even very good movie, but it won points from me for trying the material. As for 'True Blood,' I know about it, but don't have HBO, so maybe I"ll rent it when it comes out on DVD. I assume you like it . . .

    WhatIgot - It's good to show range outside of pretentious Brit music. Definitely.

  16. Heff Says:
  17. I've decided to beat you to the punch on the new G-N-R album, lol. It's.....actually NOT BAD.

  18. Heff - I'm half-way through it, and I concur. It's solid, and parts are pretty damn good so far. Thanks & I'll get over & check if you do/did an extended review later today/tomorrow.

  19. BostonPobble Says:
  20. In my opinion, the biggest problem with Chinese Democracy (as you and many others have pointed out so I'm really just repeating to see myself type, I guess) is that, if it's not The White Album, it's going to be a let down at this point.

    And yes, What I Got.... said it best ~ the dirtier the better. You know, good, bad or indifferent, this ain't gonna be dirty.

  21. Heff Says:
  22. The review is ALL YOURS. My post plate is FULL, Lol.

  23. Miss Ash Says:
  24. Umm have you head the GNR single?? I did and it sucked ass.....

  25. TROLL Says:
  26. 2DoPro,

    Yeah, I can wait. I never watch it live. You can write something about the Whole Run Of The Show prior to that if you want. I'd do it but I can't write well anymore.

    I won't give clues. I don't see any sequels happening although Walton Goggins has a development deal with FX/Fox.

  27. Bostonpobble - With that kind of music, I agree that the dirtier, rawer (don't think that's a word) the better and there's no doubt that this album will be far from that. I've heard about half of it now, and there's some solid stuff, but again, far from filthy. Ha.

    Heff - Dammit, you lazy bastard. ha. You or WhatIgot could do a much better review than me on this one. But back to your 1st comment - it doesn't just flat-out suck.

    Miss Ash - I'm not sure what single they released, but I'm glad you heard it because I like that expression about how it "sucked ass." That's great. Ha.

    TheTroll - Neither do I as I usually like to get 2 or 3 behind, and then watch them all during a weekend. I appreciate keeping the spoilers away as I honestly have no idea how things might turn out, but I imagine there will be a few surprises in there. And Goggins has been pretty good this season (not that he wasn't before).

  28. idobcool Says:
  29. hey hey hey - 'The Shield' Tonight - I can't wait, how about you...

    I remember you saying that you were a fan.

  30. slopmaster Says:
  31. I've got a 20 that it's going to ROCK! I used to love them so fing much growing up. I hope it's not like boxing and he's gonne past his prime.


  32. Idobcool - I was traveling . . . so don't give me any spoilers as I've got it on TIVO & will watch it this weekend when I get back to Austin. I can't wait, but I'm sad to see it end. Hope you enjoyed it.

    Slopmaster - I'm right there with you on GNR as they were easily my favorite band around middle or high school. And I've given it one full listen and it's very solid, but not too many hooks. I'll definitely give it another round on the drive back to Austin.

  33. Romany Angel Says:
  34. I just wanted to stop by and wish you and your wife and family a very happy Thanksgiving. Travel safely B.

  35. Romany Angel - I appreciate it, and that's why I've been gone this week around the net with all the travel, eating and visiting. ANd I''m back on the road again soon. Hope your weekend is going well.


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