Tag Archives: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Mission Impossible III (2006) 2.69/5 (5)


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Rating: The Good – 72.1
Genre: Action
Duration: 126 mins
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Easily the better of the first two sequels, Mission Impossible III isn’t as much defined by its traditional set pieces as it is by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s über-villain. After retiring from the field to get married, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is drawn back into the fold when his protege is killed by the aforementioned nasty arms dealer who among other things is attempting to secure some kind of doomsday device. Picking up the ball after John Woo had somewhat fumbled it in MI:II, J.J. Abrams, fresh from his television successes with Alias and Lost, shows an intuitive touch in his handling of some modestly conceived but impressively staged set pieces. And though opening in perhaps too high a gear, the movie does eventually settle to the extent that a decent story plays out.

After a six year hiatus from the role, Cruise gives us the same enjoyable but watered down version of Ethan Hunt as he did in the first sequel. No doubt the movie could’ve used the cheeky verve of his cracking original turn but what he fails to provide, Seymour-Hoffman makes up for in spades. Not known for his roles in action thrillers, Seymour-Hoffman spits his wonderfully acidic dialogue at everyone and anyone who gets in his way right before he tortures them in some novel but psychologically cruel manner. He’s as thrilling a bad guy as you’ll find and a scene in which he wakes up in chains yet immediately turns the tables on his captors through sheer force of will is chilling to behold. The majority of the characters excluding Hunt’s new bride (Michelle Monaghan) and his sarcastic tech-specialist (Simon Pegg) are merely vessels through which the extended action sequences play out but so brisk is the pace Abrams sets, it won’t really be noticed.

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Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) 3.73/5 (8)


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Rating: The Good – 77.1
Genre: Drama, Satire
Duration: 102 mins
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Mike Nichols turns his prodigious talent for satire to Aaron Sorkin’s clever adaptation of the true story of a Texas congressman’s attempts to secure the covert military funding that would ultimately tip the balance of the Soviet-Afghan war. Tom Hanks as the unorthadox good-time politician and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his irreverent CIA adviser form one of the best on-screen partnerships in recent decades as they bat Sorkin’s indignantly funny dialogue back and forth while Julia Roberts and Any Adams help to fill out the support roster intelligently rising to the spirit of Sorkin and Nichols’ storytelling as they go. The movie that unfolds is a delight of sardonic wit in both its writing and directing but, in typical Mike Nichols fashion, it effortlessly doubles as an engrossing political drama by perceptibly accounting for geo-political implications and character development alike. Sorkin’s feisty screenplay zips along at its usual pace but Nichols knows exactly when to channel that momentum or temporarily contain it so that its energy is maintained without dumbing down the drama. Unsurprisingly, Wilson comes out smelling like roses but only because Hanks and co. know exactly how to turn those warts into beauty spots and so, like the man himself, Charlie Wilson’s War charms its way into the audience’s hearts.

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Twister (1996) 3.71/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good –  66.7
Genre: Action, Adventure
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Jan de Bont
Stars: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes

Jan de Bont’s second directorial effort after the smash hit Speed upped the ante on the action by following a bunch of storm-chasing scientists through tornado country as they attempt to figure out the secrets of the twister. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton lead the ragtag pack of adrenaline junkies as the estranged married couple competing with a highly financed rival scientist (a slithery Cary Elwes) who stole their methodology. The action is everything you’d expect from the man who shot Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and the relatively early CGI effects still hold up to this day. The tornado sequences themselves range between formidable and unlikely as writer Michael Crichton takes his usual liberties in adapting science for the screen. Hunt and Paxton are more than comfortable with each other and add an understated charm to the movie while a young Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in a memorable shift as the “crazy guy”. There’s plenty of humour courtesy of his and everyone else’s antics and a neatly developed assortment of characters (an often ignored strength of Crichton’s screenplays) ensure it blends seamlessly with the plot’s progression. Incidentally, Twister was the first movie released in DVD format and so it not only scores as an enjoyable action adventure but it also holds a position of some significance among the geekiest of movie fans.

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Philip Baker Hall

Hard Eight (1996) 4/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 85.1
Genre: Drama, Crime
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson

Paul Thomas Anderson’s lean and spotless neo noir sees Philip Baker Hall assume the well deserved lead role as a professional gambler who takes a vulnerable John C. Reilly under his wing and teaches him his trade. But when Gwyneth Paltrow’s waitress, moonlighting as a prostitute, enters their lives, a crisis soon emerges that requires all of his seasoned calm to resolve it. There are different levels of acting success out there and the two male leads on show here represent one of the more fortunately unfortunate. Fortunate in that their supreme talent is recognised by the industry but unfortunate to be forever pigeon-holed as nothing more than “strong support players” simply because they don’t look like movie stars. Well it didn’t stop writer-director Anderson from seeing the potential of building a film around the pair and we should all be thankful.

Hard Eight is remarkably efficient story telling even for a director who has specialised in such film making. Dialogue is used sparingly but plenty is said at the right moments and it always rings with sympathetic wisdom. For a cynical film shot with an aversion for the frills and warmth of more stylish directors, this forensic engineering of compassion is a true achievement. Like his casting, Anderson doesn’t shy away from rough edges and the three main players are presented warts and all. But the honesty of how their interactions are captured set against bare production design and dulcet score renders them all the more real and relatable.

Needless to say Baker Hall doesn’t waste a second of this opportunity and, as the jaded Sydney, he finesses the film from drama to thriller and thriller to drama. He may not look like a movie star but he has a great face all the same and regardless of what career his character may have pursued, every day of it seems etched on his face. Reilly is equally splendid in what transpires to be a lesser part but his intense vulnerability wonderfully complements Baker Hall’s composed presence. To her credit, Paltrow isn’t left behind either and she gives us one of the more interesting takes on what has become a standard Hollywood trope of gender economics. Above all else, however, it’s the savvy interplay between these characters who, one and all have been there and done that, which makes Hard Eight so enjoyable and, during the sequences in which Samuel L. Jackson’s sly security guard spars with the ever cool Sydney, the generation gap between their street smarts makes for subtly riveting games of cat and mouse.

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The Big Lebowski (1998) 4.74/5 (7)


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Rating: The Good – 92.4
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 117 mins
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore

“Nihilists? Say what you want about the tenets of nationalist socialism but at least it’s an ethos.” Maybe the funniest film ever made, this Coen Bros’ masterpiece is a triumph of writing, acting, and comedy direction. The quotable lines, the jokes, the glorious set-pieces are all too numerous to list while the story is too complicated and downright wacky to summarise. The acting is among the very best for a comedy with Jeff Bridges turning in an iconic performance as the Dude and John Goodman scoring equally well as his Vietnam obsessed bowling buddy Walter. The Big Lebowski is quite simply the most original, innovative, and laugh-out-loud comedy out there. “Am I wrong?”

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The Ides of March (2011) 3.36/5 (4)


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Rating: The Good – 76.4
Genre: Drama
Duration: 101 mins
Director: George Clooney
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney

George Clooney’s adaptation of Beau Willimon’s Farragut North is an intricate examination of motivation, morality, and ambition that unfolds into a depressing picture of politics and human nature and of the inescapable corruptive influence one has on the other. Ryan Gosling fronts the picture as the ambitious yet idealistic campaign manager who believes his candidate is both morally and practically the right man for the democratic presidential nomination. Clooney is that man, a suave and erudite governor whose relative youth and energy resemble that of a real life 2008 democratic nominee. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the campaign head as well as Gosling’s boss and together they set their strategies against their rival campaign manager Paul Giamatti. Evan Rachel Wood is the intern who accidentally gets caught up in the middle of their cut throat dynamics and Marisa Tomei’s reporter is only too happy to throw fuel on the fire so long as she gets a couple of comments on the record about how hot it’s getting.

The Ides of March is slow burner heaven for those with a taste for the best political thrillers. It teases out the potential crises of character that exists at the seat of all our personal ideologies through a mature and levelled examination of the modern politician and the machinery s/he uses to get her/himself elected. Clooney’s initial ideal of a political saviour is pulled at and then scratched at, so that the audience, through the eyes of our lead character, are given the same cold chills (followed closely by just plain coldness) which Gosling’s idealist experiences. The script is more than happy to let the players move the story forward in the initial stages so that the emergence of the plot feels organic and it’s development coalesces with the personalities of those players. The dialogue is both sharp and witty and nearly always resists the temptation to become bigger than the drama. But it’s the character writing that gives the story so much substance. The people in this film feel real, their ambitions are brazen, their motives petty, and they are all prone to error. Yes, it’s a depressing picture of humanity but in the context of this type of story, it’s probably pretty accurate. The writing isn’t perfect as the final act culminates in a relatively clunky manner but the lead up and indeed remainder of the film is so sophisticated from a slow burning dramatic point of view, that this one misstep matters little.

Naturally, the actors respond to this clarity and so they become the principal reason as to why a film with no traditional forms of suspense remains enthralling throughout. Though always entertaining and usually better than good, it’s nonetheless great to see Clooney take on a genuinely complicated role even if his character must necessarily loom large in the background for most of the film. Gosling takes a break from the more somber/comatose kick he’s prone to these days and gives us a young go-getter full of personality and energy. It’s a reminder of how good a performer he is because at the end of the day, it’s the ability to be real yet distinctive that is the mark of a great actor and that’s exactly what Gosling does here. Of course, he is surrounded by a wealth of talent from the heavy weight division of the acting world. Regardless of the gold statuettes sitting on their respective mantles (because they too seldom reflect genuine acting talent), these are the cream of the current crop of Hollywood’s A-list and they seem to relish the opportunity to play with such meaty roles and not have to do anymore than 7-10 days of acting in the process. No one actor stands above the other as all are outstanding. OK, at a push, one could point out that Seymour Hoffman’s vengeful and paranoid turn is particularly nice to watch.

Clooney’s direction has always been impressive and while more low key than his previous Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck, it’s also a more quietly confident shift of work. His ability to key in on the exact tone of a scene stands out here as everything from the set design to the lighting seems right at all times. Through his patience and Alexandre Desplat’s gripping score, a low thud of inevitability beats through the second half of the film rising imperceptibly to create an engaging tension. This is a difficult craft to master and critical to a drama such as this one.

The Ides of March may have all sorts of commentaries running through it that speak to the current political climate in the US and indeed Clooney’s own sentiments but as a straight-up drama, it stands head and shoulders above most of its contemporaries. If it does little more than tell an engaging story, it at least acts as a reminder of the class that defined the genre in its heyday.

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