New in Theaters: ‘A Most Wanted Man’

Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'A Most Wanted Man' (Roadside Attractions)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in ‘A Most Wanted Man’ (Roadside Attractions)

mostwantedman-posterThe latest John Le Carre adaptation is also one of the final film performances of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and just about nearly worth seeing just for him alone.

A Most Wanted Man is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

This elegant, sparse, and scrupulously acted but dramatically stunted adaptation is like Anton Corbijn’s last film,The American: tasteful in a Europhilic way and not quite human. Although set right in the middle of the post-9/11, post-Cold War chaos that supposedly put an end to the old ways of sleuthing, the film has us harkening back to spy business essentials. These operatives certainly make good use of bleeding-edge gadgetry; after all, one of the great draws of those old spy stories was their showing off of then-new technology, catalog-like. But the fixation is really on those classic skills of patience and mousetrap-springing that the modern espionage thriller has essentially jettisoned like Jason Bourne leaping out a window. It would seem gauche if one of these guys even pulled out a gun. That careful sense of professionals going about their work with grim diligence is some of the best of what Corbijn’s film has to offer. What it doesn’t present is a pulse…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Film: ‘God’s Pocket’

Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in 'God's Pocket' (image courtesy of IFC Films)
Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in ‘God’s Pocket’ (image courtesy of IFC Films)

For his directorial debut, John Slattery (Mad Men) chose to adapt a seamy crime novel by Pete Dexter, stock it with a couple Academy Awards’ worth of talent—Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his three posthumous roles to hit theaters this year—and then play the whole thing as a kind of cosmic gag. It very nearly works.

God’s Pocket is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

The title comes from the neighborhood where all the action is set. It’s a scabrous, Southie kind of place where the bars are packed, the walls are covered in wood paneling, the air is thick with cigarette smoke and barely controlled rage, the mood black, and the faces white. As the beautiful wounded bird at the center of all the story’s ugliness, Slattery’s “Mad Men” co-star Christina Hendricks plays Jeanie Scarpato. She’s the blinded-by-love mother to Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), a drugged-out, scrubby kid who doesn’t make it too far into the film. He’s so busy at his job one day ranting and raving and spitting racial slurs that when his sole black co-worker clocks him with a lead pipe, it’s a complete surprise…

You can see the trailer here:

Readers’ Corner: Philip Seymour Hoffman

One more note on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Back in 2004, he was interviewed by The Believer and the talk sprawled over beyond life and acting into things literary.

yates__paradeHoffman has played a few great figures from both sides of the literary page (Willy Loman, Truman Capote), but that’s not what gave him the credentials for this interview, it’s that he was clearly a passionate reader. Not a lot people out there these days who will stand up and shout for the dark glories of somebody like Richard Yates:

If you do any great art you’re somehow exposing a part of you. Like Richard Yates, Jesus Christ, that book, you almost don’t want to meet him. I kept feeling for the characters as if they existed.

But perhaps most beautifully, he identifies one of the great solaces of reading, that it’s an act in and of itself with no need to be justified. Some won’t care for his comparing it to smoking, but the linkage is clear:

When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.

Screening Room: Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a bandit of an actor. From The Talented Mr. Ripley to Charlie Wilson’s War and The Ides of March, he was rarely better than when committing full-scale larceny on the screen—walking away with an entire film while leaving A-list actors stumbling about in his wake.

With such a rich body of work cut so horrendously short, you would think it would be hard to zoom in on one particular performance that summed up his appeal. But it’s not. Almost every writer who saw Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous still remembers the scene when Hoffman, as stupendously self-destructive rock writer Lester Bangs, advises the film’s adolescent wannabe scribe about remaining true to the art and not giving in to the temptations of flattery and cool.

A few lines are thrown into the lonely night (“good lookin’ people, they got no spine…their art never lasts”) and Hoffman creates a brotherhood of uncool with his awe-inspiring mix of gruff attitude and aching vulnerability:

The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

The writing is Crowe’s but Hoffman makes it immortal:

New in Theaters: ‘A Late Quartet’

Sneaking into theaters in a surprisingly clandestine manner—for a film starring the likes of Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, and Philip Seymour Hoffman—is the quiet melodrama A Late Quartet:

[The film] looks like one of those November films that speak to audiences interested in the finer things. Set on the Upper West Side in the deep chill of winter, it offers a seeming checklist of somber elements, from a teacher reading T.S. Eliot to his students to the onset of a dread disease. It even includes an initially odd bit of unexpected casting in Christopher Walken as a quiet paterfamilias. But the checklist turns into an outline for the film that could have been, an echo of class, taste, and meaningful art instead of the real thing…

A Late Quartet opened Friday in limited release, and features some superb acting, if not much in the way of a thoughtful script. My full review is at PopMatters.

You can watch the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Master’

The Master makes what should have been long obvious now utterly clear: Paul Thomas Anderson can lay claim to being one of the era’s few American writer/directors afflicted with greatness. It is hard to think of another home-grown filmmaker who so consistently brings such psychologically astute scripting, and ability to coax nakedly revelatory performances from actors—that classically trained eye for widescreen framing—to each film he makes. The Master may not match the level of artistry or thematic intensity seen in There Will Be Blood, but it is Anderson’s most approachable film in years, not to mention his most vividly realized characters to date. There won’t be much else like it on screens this year…

The Master opens Friday in limited release and expands wider over the next few weeks. My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

Trailer Park: ‘The Master’

A lot of the initial buzz that’s going to swirl around Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master will center on whether it’s inspired by Scientology. It’s easy to see why: the 1950s setting, the cultish leader who poses as a hybrid master of all disciplines, the dark threads of systematized paranoia and neurosis. But if the trailer is any indication — lush visuals, Joaquin Phoenix in full Walk the Line meltdown and Philip Seymour Hoffman owning the screen in that sulphuric Talented Mr. Ripley fashion — focusing on that subject alone could sidetrack attention from the potentially genius qualities of what could be the film of the year.

Check it out: