'Eternal Sunshine' genius makes weirder science.

Charlie Kaufman, the mastermind writer behind 'Being John Malkovich' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' makes his directorial debut with 'Synecdoche, New York,' and the results are ... interesting, at least until the decidedly odd film goes off the rails.

How to describe the surreal plot? Philip Seymour Hoffman is (Caden), a theater director in SCHENECTADY, NY who suffers an endless array of strange ailments (was his urine just brown?!) and whose "masterpiece" includes constructing a parallel world inside a giant Manhattan warehouse where performers act out his life.

The film starts off "normal" enough, then next thing we know Caden's assistant (Samantha Morton) buys a house that's perpetually on fire. A heady story about death and mortality (I think), 'Synecdoche' begins as a funny, weirdly enjoyable movie before turning just plain weird.


'Eternal Sunshine' genius makes weirder science.

Charlie Kaufman, the mastermind writer behind 'Being John Malkovich' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' makes his directorial debut with 'Synecdoche, New York,' and the results are ... interesting, at least until the decidedly odd film goes off the rails. How to describe the surreal plot? Philip Seymour Hoffman is (Caden), a theater director in SCHENECTADY, NY who suffers an endless array of strange ailments (was his urine just brown?!) and whose "masterpiece" includes constructing a parallel world inside a giant Manhattan warehouse where performers act out his life. The film starts off "normal" enough, then next thing we know Caden's assistant (Samantha Morton) buys a house that's perpetually on fire. A heady story about death and mortality (I think), 'Synecdoche' begins as a funny, weirdly enjoyable movie before turning just plain weird.

Speaking of strange, 'Miracle at St. Anna' is not at all what I expected from a World War II film joint directed by Spike Lee. I hoped for a gritty battle epic that pays tribute to the black soldiers who fought and still delivers Lee's usual hard-hitting social messages. But 'St. Anna,' which follows four "buffalo soldiers" (Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonzo and Omar Benson Miller) trapped in a Tuscan village after surviving a German onslaught, suffers from an odd framing device (a murder mystery?), lack of focus (we get various points of view, from the Americans to the Italians to the Germans) and plenty of dull stretches. It still manages to inspire, but 'Saving Private Ryan' it ain't.

It wouldn't be a film festival without a dysfunctional family in suburbia drama, and 'Lymelife' is a solid entry into the popular subgenre. It's a wild Culkin affair as real-life brothers Rory and Kieran play real-life Long Island brothers in the late-'70s. Even better, they have one of the world's most famous brothers, Alec Baldwin, playing dad (and feeling right at home in Syosset, LI), and the world's most famous niece (Emma Roberts) in her most mature role yet as Rory's BFF and crush. The deceivingly dark film, which counts Baldwin and Martin Scorsese among its producers, could be a sleeper success story in Toronto, but still falls a bit short of matching the way-too-similar 'Ice Storm.'