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Philip Seymour Hoffman Shines One Last Time in ‘A Most Wanted Man’: A Review

Philip Seymour Hoffman Shines One Last Time in ‘A Most Wanted Man’: A Review

Philip Seymour Hoffman Shines One Last Time in ‘A Most Wanted Man’: A Review

In what is likely to be his last “starring” role (The Hunger Games sequels aside), A Most Wanted Man centers around the talents of fallen acting legend Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann, a CIA operative in Germany who has been tracking the flow of shipments in and out of ports there. With his team in tow, targets are tracked up the food chain before moving in to secure an arrest. This leads to potential power struggles with other officials who have differing motives – personal or public gain, mistrust, etc. all being possibilities.

Gunter tracks a tortured Muslim with a checkered past entering Germany who seeks asylum. The man takes up residence with a group that helps him, including “social worker for known terrorists” Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams). The man wants his dead and estranged fathers money, which is held at a bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Defoe) and thus an intricate plot unspools as the CIA attempts to determine what this man will use the money for. American officials, represented by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) come into play and eventually a deal is put in place to being a resolution to the proceedings.

The fallen Hoffman looms over McAdams as his presence does throughout this film.

Director Anton Corbijn (The American) shoots attractive locations mixed with unfriendly confines loaded with potential problems lurking around every corner. The source material is John LeCarre’s novel, and while the film can only develop so many characters, what does unravel in the spy film is a bit cold and calculating (not unlike Clooney’s film), rather than the thrilling kind (like say, the Bourne films). The film is interesting but not ultimately overly satisfying in and of itself, especially considering the possibility of seeing Hoffman in one of his last roles.

Seeing the film is an opportunity to pay respect to a sterling actor, but his role, while of course delivered in expert manner, lacks the flair with which one might hope to see him go out on a higher note. Perhaps it’s all appropriate in the end, as the character actor who won an Oscar and became a star, was always meant to be a talent utilized to serve the story, rather than to sit above the fray. A Most Wanted Man references the target in the film, but for audiences, it will be the chance to experience Hoffman on a big screen one last time. That in the end will have to suffice.

 

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Danny Boyle’s ‘Trance’ Puts Viewers in Mind-Spinning State: A Review

Danny Boyle’s ‘Trance’ Puts Viewers in Mind-Spinning State: A Review

Danny Boyle’s ‘Trance’ Puts Viewers in Mind-Spinning State: A Review 

Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer indebted to criminals in Trance. When an absurdly expensive painting is stolen by Simon to help clear his debt, an accident occurs (he gets knocked in the dome) which leads to his obtaining amnesia. The rest of the film deals with uncovering the whereabouts of the painting.

To find out where the painting is, the criminal group, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), goes the usual rout of torture. When that doesn’t work, they enlist a sexy psychiatrist/hypnotist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to unlock Simon’s mind. Eventually, she becomes embroiled in the plot heavily, trying to help find the painting due to her own boredom (or not). The plot weaves tangled strands of yarn in various directions as the con-game is played out in the film and on the audience.

‘Trance’ attempts to metaphorically blow minds. Subtle.

Trance is stylishly shot, with neon hues and warped camera work, and includes a solid, pulse-pounding soundtrack. The beauty can’t cover up its convoluted plot that shows itself layer by layer until all is “explained” in the end. These sorts of films can work (Confidence comes to mind), keeping the audience guessing in a whodunit fashion. However, Boyle’s piece seems too contrived and focused on style over substance.

This was billed as a return to Trainspotting-like form for Boyle in some parts. Alas, this simply is not the case. Perhaps the blame lies with the script, based on heavy trickery and deception. Perhaps Boyle deserves some wrist slapping too, since a director of his caliber should be able to do better. Films that need this much explanation rather than simply having the audience watch something unfold tend to fail. Regardless of Dawson’s full frontal sighting, Trance will leave you less dazed and more confused than Richard Linklater’s coming of age classic. In the end, that is simply not enough.

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Joaquin Phoenix Pimp Walks His Way Through ‘The Immigrant’: A Review

Joaquin Phoenix Pimp Walks His Way Through ‘The Immigrant’: A Review

Joaquin Phoenix Pimp Walks His Way Through ‘The Immigrant’: A Review

James Gray’s latest film The Immigrant, is yet another which stars the incredible talents of Joaquin Phoenix. It’s set in New York in the early 1900’s. A beautiful immigrant, Ewa (Marian Cotillard) and her sister flee Poland to the US, but fresh off the boat and due to strict rules, they face deportation. Phoenix plays Bruno Weiss, a man of potentially troubling motives, who offers Ewa a chance to stay in the US and make a living if she so pleases. Soon, Ewa is tossed into a role as burlesque star/whore for Weiss’ troupe of successful theatrical ladies. Weiss is essentially a pimp of his era.

Ewa trusts nobody, especially Weiss, and lives only to see her sister freed from the infirmary at the prison in which she is being held. She will do whatever it takes to survive, whether stealing, fighting or earning her keep in such a despicable manner to her soul. Ewa constantly wants to flee Weiss’ clutches, but his fancy for her and his ability to keep her fed and earning is tough to leave. A typical but powerful conundrum to be sure.

 

The Immigrant

The US can be a lonely place without a companion, as depicted in “The Immigrant.”

Eventually, a travelling magician, Emil (Jeremy Renner), who also happens to be Weiss’ cousin, falls for Ewa, creating a love triangle, the likes of which Gray is so famously good at bringing to the screen. The usual themes of jealousy, deceit and redemption are at play here. The film, aided by a sepia tone look, remains interesting, though paced a bit deliberately until a climax that also is right up Gray’s alley.

Joaquin Phoenix is perhaps the best actor working today. With the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, to me, Phoenix immediately ascends to the top of the heap, if nothing else, sharing the crown with a handful of other acting greats. Phoenix’s Weiss is tortured with an internal gnawing that reveals itself in a brilliant final scene of acting. Though the movie may not payoff in a manner satisfying to audiences, Phoenix makes Weiss as human as possible in a moment of significant catharsis. For that alone, I give The Immigrant a pass.

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Cate Blanchett Sparkles in Woody Allen’s 2013 Film ‘Blue Jasmine’: A Movie Review

Cate Blanchett Sparkles in Woody Allen’s 2013 Film ‘Blue Jasmine’: A Movie Review

Cate Blanchett Sparkles in Woody Allen’s 2013 Film ‘Blue Jasmine’: A Movie Review

There’s a thing I like to call “getting to a place” in acting. This primarily refers to an actor attempting to cry on film. Some are naturally far better at it than others. In Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett reaches this crescendo over and over in a sterling performance. Too bad the rest of the film doesn’t quite do enough to keep up.

In Jasmine, Blanchett plays Jasmine French, perhaps not her real name, though this is never entirely explained. Jasmine is down on her luck, supposedly broke and forced to move to a menial location in San Francisco to live with her estranged and kind-hearted half sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine is coming off of a tumultuous “break up” where her ultra rich, bastard of a husband (Alec Baldwin) deceived countless people in money laundering schemes, including Ginger and her then husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). The movie focuses on Jasmine’s present while flashing back to her past to show how she got here.

blue jasmine blanchett

A picture of isolation and despair, Jasmine (Blanchett) deals with her comeuppance.

Jasmine is saddled with drinking and drug problems, tumbling from high society to trying to find real work and put her life back together. Along the way she encounters good people and bad, while she always has an opinion of others shaped by her past. While Ginger works as a grocery bagger and sees a regular Joe greasy monkey, Jasmine desires to return to her past, seeking a man of substance and success. Once this finally happens, we wonder whether she has the fortitude to keep the relationship together and Allen’s film answers that question in pinpoint fashion.

Blanchett gives the performance of a lifetime in Jasmine, constantly under self torture and duress. She carries nearly every scene of the film, so while her character struggles to change, her acting echoes the same traits admirably. She was rightfully at least acknowledged for her work come awards season. The film however is a little too one note, if more the fault of the story than anything else. Everyone involved brings their A-game, but the story doesn’t reach the heights that Allen can sometimes touch and that ultimately keeps the film from being must-see entertainment. While Jasmine “gets to a place,” your emotions watching the film will be far more subdued.

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Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’ (2010) Takes Viewers Where They Need To Go: A Review

Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’ (2010) Takes Viewers Where They Need To Go: A Review

Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’ (2010) Takes Viewers Where They Need To Go: A Review

Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film Somewhere tests viewers right out of the gate with an opening visual that hints at a Ferrari driving laps in a long continuous and monotonous shot. We see brief glimpses of the car and hear its roaring engine, but while that noise would seem in contrast to much of the rest of the film, it serves as an excellent precursor to the director’s surprising indy gem.

Somewhere follows Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco, a Hollywood star who lives at the famed Chateau Marmont on Sunset. Johnny has access to all the trappings that fame provides – money, sex, partying and recognition – but his life seems alarmingly empty in his moments of solitude. Even pole dancing strippers (the Playboy Mansion’s Shannon twins) can’t get a rise out of him. He’s bored with their routine and inside his life’s routine, despite his affable attempts at pleasing those he encounters. Publicists and makeup artists treat him like the puppet he is, despite his star status. He’s not a reluctant star but his life clearly beckons for more.

Somewhere movie strippers

A pole dance is supposed to be erotic but in this case, the reality is more comedic.

Enter his estranged 11 year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), who’s shorter visit turns into a longer several week stay. She cooks for her Dad and Johnny takes her to Italy, where he is presented an award in comedic fashion. His frequent dalliances with beautiful women carry on, but Cleo’s presence changes him, particularly when she finally leaves. She never imposes on him and clearly loves her, which has unlocked something that may have been missing in his day-to-day. He was having more fun than he realized and without her, concludes being by himself sucks. He feels aimless and despite appearing to have it all, wonders where he’s going in life. The film’s still tones throughout show you Johnny’s slow burn to reach this point. Somewhere is the contrast to HBO’s “Entourage”, and Johnny Marco needs someone like Johnny Drama to keep him going.

Coppola succeeds in showing us an attractive Hollywood lifestyle and balancing it with the non-glamorous realities when the action isn’t happening or when the cameras aren’t around. Somewhere never dictates to us. It keeps the allure of a Hollywood life alive but also shows the potential for emptiness when the lights fade. It’s a film that is both a challenge at times (at least 12-15 minutes without dialogue to open the film) and rewarding, as it gets under your skin and begging you to think about it more. It’s at that juncture where any film succeeds. It has to take you somewhere and kudos to Somewhere for doing just that.

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‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Movie Review: Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Battle Alien Forces

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Movie Review: Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Battle Alien Forces

Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Battle Alien Forces In Summer’s ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

Edge of Tomorrow promises science fiction smarts, audacious and exciting visuals and a challenge to the minds of general audiences over the age of 13. With the citizens of Earth at war and in a fight for its very existence with alien forces, Edge ramps up the usual war angle and throws in a time-warping twist to the proceedings. What results is summer entertainment of a quality order, one that it’s star, Tom Cruise, has not seen for some time. If you think of Oblivion when coming to see Edge, think again then start your thought process over.

Edge sees Cruise’s Cage, a military man who’s never fought, trapped in a warp where he joins fresh recruits for a battle with aliens for Earth’s survival. This war with the aliens, however, is doomed to fail as Cage soon discovers. But Cage has a special blend in his blood that sees him reliving the same day over and over again. Think Groundhog Day, which is the natural comparison. His bad dream becomes the key to possibly winning the war, but will require the ultimate sacrifice on his behalf.

edge of tomorrow pic

Cruise wouldn’t mind rolling, lighting and smoking Blunt in ‘Edge.’

Cage meets Rita (a fetching, but tough Emily Blunt), the ultimate war-fighting heroine who happens to have had a similar blood affliction in the past. They form an underground alliance in order to try to win the war without anyone (the military authority in particular) being the wiser. Alas, things do not go as planned, naturally. Writer Christopher McQuarrie, best known for penning The Usual Suspects, manages another mind-bender and shows off his versatility with this futuristic, war-related piece.

Swingers and The Bourne Identity director Doug Limans’s Edge of Tomorrow displays flair, humor and originality throughout its two hour runtime. Cruise and Blunt share surprisingly palpable chemistry despite the fact that they barely know each other in the film’s context. Edge is at times heart-breaking, humorous and humiliating (to it’s lead any way). The sci-fi fantasy does a good job at keeping the viewer’s interest and playing out to a satisfactory end. This deserves your attention at some point.

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‘Godzilla’ Movie Review: Disaster Flick A Total Disaster In All Ways

‘Godzilla’ Movie Review: Disaster Flick A Total Disaster In All Ways

‘Godzilla’ Movie Review: Disaster Flick A Total Disaster In All Ways

Director Gareth Edwards Godzilla reboot is beyond atrocious. The film has no continuity, no reason for existing and is no fun. Why would anyone want to pay to see this film? Godzilla, theoretically anyway, exists for filmgoers to experience spectacle and have a good time, even if it is to mock a movie with a tongue in cheek experience. But alas, nothing like that is to be had here. Godzilla is simply a disaster.

Since presumably you know the basic premise, I won’t go into details. Godzilla is born of some sort of electromagnetic waves prviding power to a mythical creature, or something like that, I think. Nobody cares. The reason you come to see a film like this is to essentially see Godzilla wreck shop. The beast should wreak havoc on buildings, nature, humans, etc. But if you are looking for this to happen, and I am sure you are, it will be a long painful wait during the movie. The big guy doesn’t remotely rear his head until at least half the movie is over. And that buildup to that point is beyond the pain you would experience at most movies.

Godzilla

If only the makers of ‘Godzilla’ were eaten by the monster they created…

The idea of Godzilla is talked about. There are supposed explanations for how he could exists while another monster forms. There are preparations for how America and its military will deal with him. There is the usual human element of a father separated from his family and also his father, blah, blah, blah. Its all pointless because there is no fun! Eventually the monster shows up in a glimpse and he is imposing in size, but comical and fake to look at. Even worse is his opposition, who may or may not be Mothra. That thing looks beyond fake and its hard to imagine spending a reported $160million making this movie without making the monster look particularly real or menacing. He roars 3-4 times, but its a cross between amusing and scary and is a total head scratcher. Again, remarkably worthless.

The growing disconnect between my viewing habits and desires versus those with the public at large and even critics has never seemed so large as it does here. How Godzilla 2014 has earned $175 domestic and counting, not to mention 73% and 72% from critics and audience scores on RT is baffling. This is drivel, tripe, a waste of time, money and energy and any other bashing you can throw at it. Trust me, I can thrash this Hollywood ideology and Godzilla movie much more than the big dude thrashes buildings in the movie. Since he’s in it all of 15 minutes or so tops on screen, maybe he can earn the Dame Judy Dench Oscar. I have no idea and I really don’t care. You shouldn’t either. This will easily be the worst movie I’ll see this year and it ranks as one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s that bad.

 

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Vince Vaughn Backed ‘The Internship’ (2013) Movie Review

Vince Vaughn Backed ‘The Internship’ (2013) Movie Review

Vince Vaughn Backed ‘The Internship’ (2013) Movie Review

Reliable comedic duo (depending on who you ask) Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, re-team for the fish out of water comedy, The Internship. The movie delivers a storyline that their aging stars and many Americans alike would theoretically be able to relate to, that of a changing world after losing the only career that they’ve ever known. Cast away to a world where their skills may not be needed, the friends seek to put their lives back together after an ouster from a luxury watch company.

The Internship, which serves as a large-scale ad for Google in many ways (not a good one, I might add), sees the affable duo improbably land an interview (with fake resumes in part, which are never called into question), then an internship with a shot at full time jobs at the tech behemoth. Google is a corporate playground run by kids with no life experience and that is the advantage the leads can play to survive.

Internship Movie Geeks

The star interns look the part at Google in the bland ‘The Internship.’

The movie was shot for a reported $58mil and made $44 domestic and $93 total after international receipts. The script was penned by Vaughn, which was surprising to me. In many ways, he is the only thing going for it, as it’s cast of geek stars are lame and caricatures at best, with wooden, one-note performances, most notably from Max Minghella (The Social Network). The script is bland and by the numbers with only its stars doing their best to save it from oblivion. Alas, Owen Wilson’s schlubby-schtick is way past its due date, so Vaughn has a go alone and can really only do so much. Rose Byrne co-stars as well.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Night At The Smithsonian), there is nothing notable or particularly poor from him, other than letting a night club scene go on far too long with predictably feeble results. The film tries to tell an uplifting tale about continuing to fight the good fight, but with the end predictable from word one, there is nothing really to root for here. The Internship can’t be saved by semi-genius cameos from Will Ferrell and more shockingly, Rob Riggle. You get a handful of laughs at best, but the cringe-worthy, eye-rolling moments far outnumber them. There’s no way these guys deserve the job or your time.

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