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Ty's weekend movie picks for Friday, November 7

Posted by Ty Burr  November 7, 2008 07:25 AM

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("Stranger Than Paradise," playing for free at the Brattle Saturday morning)

Three directorial personal appearances grace the Boston area this weekend: Two are classy, the other decidedly not, so let's deal with the last one first. If you know who Bruce Campbell is, then you're doubtless already a fan, and you're probably primed for the goofy self-parody of "My Name is Bruce," no matter that the movie's nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. But its heart's in the right place -- the Z-flick garbage heap -- and it's hard to hate a man who admits to having filmed a movie in Bulgaria. If you're of that mind, then, head down to the Kendall tonight (Friday) and tomorrow to see the movie along with a personal appearance by Campbell himself, rallying the psychotronic troops to fever pitch.

A more culturally acceptable (and, really, more important) personal appearance is at the Museum of Fine Arts tonight, as Iran's Majid Majidi kicks off the Boston Festival of Films from Iran by accepting the ILEX Foundation Award for Excellence in Iranian Cinema. They'll be showing his latest, "The Song of the Sparrows," as well.

And the great French director Claire Denis is showing up at the Harvard Film Archive tonight and tomorrow for a chat and some screenings. Too bad the very thorough HFA retrospective of Denis films doesn't include her new one, "35 Shots of Rum".

We're also in the midst of the 20th Boston Jewish Film Festival, which kicked off Wednesday and continues unspooling at the MFA, the Coolidge, and the ICA, among other venues. Lynda Gorov breaks down this year's offerings.

New releases: The most impressive aspect of "Synecdoche, New York," arriving at the Kendall and the Waltham Embassy today, is watching Charlie Kaufman slowly come into his own as a director. Which is to say the first hour is kind of a mess -- a typical (if that's the word) Kaufmanesque tale of a desperate schlub artist (Philip Seymour Hoffman this time, his surname neatly rhyming with the filmmaker's) whose life falls apart in dandruff flakes of disaster even as he embarks on a meta-adventure that reshuffles our ideas of what story should do. The characters are aggravating (can someone please cast Catherine Keener as something other than a bitch?) and the surreal/poetic touches like a house that's forever on fire don't click the way they're supposed to. Above all, you miss the playful visual sensibility that directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry have brought to Kaufman's scripts in the past. Initially, "Synecdoche" is a stone drag.

But then the movie starts to pull together, starting with the eerie elisions of time that leap months, days, years without the characters seeming to notice. It's very Kurt Vonnegut, in a nice way. Hoffman's stage director mounts an insane theater project in a warehouse; essentially he replicates his entire life as a play, and the rehearsals become his life. We're into Borges territory here, with life's endless fecundity swamping and transforming one man's art and very perception. Emotions accrue over the decades and the gallery of women cohere into a Greek chorus of missed chances. Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams offer spooky variations on lovers true and untrue, and in the home stretch Dianne Wiest, of all people, emerges as a the movie's closest equivalent to a serene and all-knowing God. The last scenes of "Synecdoche" are an almost perfect inversion of its opening: calm, sad, intensely moving. I'm not sure, but I think Kaufman's made exactly the movie he wanted to, conceptual warts and all.

If that's all just too high-minded for you, you'd probably prefer "Role Models," the very funny and very rude comedy about two loser Big Brothers mentors. Five good reasons to see this foul-mouthed, thoroughly reprehensible comedy: Paul Rudd (dead-eyed and hilarious), Seann William Scott (grinning his Stifler grin), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin himself), Bobb'e J. Thompson (Jack Nicholson in "The Last Detail" reincarnated into the body of a young black child), and a deep, abiding love of the music of KISS.

Other offerings include the Madagascar sequel, which I hear is somewhat better than the original -- high praise indeed! -- Bernie Mac's farewell performance, and an earnest issue drama about why Christians shouldn't deprogram gay people that features a hellacious performance from Judith Light. After all these years, we can finally say: She's the boss.

Finally, there's a free screening of Jim Jarmusch's mighty "Stranger Than Paradise" (photo up top) at the Brattle tomorrow (Saturday) at 10 a.m. True, if useless, fact: My daughter's former kindergarten teacher is Richard Edson's big sister, and if you put a wig and glasses on him, they'd look identical.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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