Synedoche, New York 2008 ***

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The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman left something of a gap; who else could play the central character of this bizarre Charlie Kaufman comedy drama? Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theatre director who is a hypochondriac and also is struggling with his family relationships; his wife and daughter leave him to go to Berlin while he works on his latest theatrical opus. The production takes years, and while he’s holed up in a vast warehouse, Cotard begins to experience heath issues which he believes might be fatal. Writing and directing for the first time, Kaufman retains the quirks if not the good humour of his earlier work, aided by a strong female cast including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams. But ultimately it’s Hoffman’s portrait of a creative man at the end of his teacher that proves the most haunting; art and life are intertwined in this story, and in real life, tragedy caught up with Hoffman’s prodigious talent in the worst possible way.

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Good Time 2017 ****

A good time is not had by all in this blistering low-life thriller from George and Bennie Safdie, featuring Twilight’s Robert Pattinson in a role that blows away any notion of him being defined by his teen-idol status. Pattison is intense as Connie Nikas, who bursts in on his brother’s Nick’s psychological evaluation and whisks him off into an abortive bank-robbery that leave the two men splattered with paint and on the run.  Nick is arrested, and when he’s unable to make bail, Connie decides to bust his brother out of jail, setting in motion a violent chain of events that lead to an amusement park and a bottle of soft drink that’s laced with several thousand dollars worth of LSD. The detail is vivid and persuasive in Good Time, which takes a few handbrakes twists on the way to a downbeat ending.  Bennie Safdie plays Nick well enough, but Pattinson is quite extraordinary here, with good support from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi. Good Time made barely a ripple at the box office, but should develop an audience on streaming if there’s a market of hard-bitten, intense crime cinema.

Anomalisa 2016 ****

anomalisaCharlie Kaufman’s stop-motion/puppet film is an anomaly; it might be a romance, it might be an anti-romance, it might be a plea for equal rights for sex-toys. David Thewlis voices Michael, a jaded family man who falls in love with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a convention he’s speaking at in the Fregoli hotel. It’s her voice that first attracts Michael, not surprising when every other character, male or female, is voiced by Tom Noonan. Michael and Lisa’s one-night stand is captured in granular detail, and Kaufmann ingeniously uses puppets to make their bedroom scenes non-exploitative. Whether it’s a portrait of a man incapable of love, or a valentine to the transitory nature of love itself, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s film is very much up for interpretation, as is as sub-plot where Michael buys a sex-toy and presents it to his family on his return home. Whatever it means, Anomalisa is imaginative, brilliantly executed and heartbreakingly sad.