Tag Archives: philip seymour hoffman

Cold Mountain – Review

3 Sep

Civil War movies fascinate me because I’ve always seemed to gravitate towards World War II films so I feel like I’ve missed out a little bit. It’s a really intriguing era with a lot of potential for some exceptional production design with how America looked and functioned in this mid 19th century time. In 1997, a novel called Cold Mountain was released having been written by Charles Frazier. It went on to win the National Book Award, but I don’t really hear too much more about it. In 2003, it was adapted for the big screen by acclaimed film maker Anthony Minghella, who before this won the Academy Award for his directing of The English Patient. I had some reservations going into Cold Mountain, but it actually surprised me. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a solid Civil War epic that deserves some attention.

With the South talking of seceding from the North, tensions in the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain are high. Many people want the war to happen, but the new town preacher, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland), and his daughter, Ada (Nicole Kidman) are staunchly against it. Amongst these talks of war, Ada finds peace with a local man she meets named WP Inman (Jude Law), and the two quickly fall for each other. Before anything can be done with their feelings, North Carolina secedes from the Union and most of the men of the town enlist to the Confederate Army, including Inman. As the years of the war drag on and hope for the South seems bleak, Ada struggles to survive in the town and only gets by with the help of a local woman (Kathy Baker) and her new tough talking friend, Ruby (Renée Zelwegger). Meanwhile, Inman is injured in a battle and after receiving a letter from Ada decides to desert and make the long journey home to Cold Mountain. Along the way, Inman sees all sorts of kinds which gives him a perspective of what he’s been fighting for and how the war has torn apart so many lives.

That was a pretty tough summary to write because there’s so much that happens in Cold Mountain. It’s a long movie that clocks over two and a half hours, which was actually one of my main worries. I’m all about watching a long movie that has a grand scope, but I’ve seen some recently that don’t really know what to do with a story of that magnitude. Luckily, this isn’t Minghella’s first rodeo and he knows just how to handle a story like this. I left out a lot of characters and subplots, because there’s no way I’d be able to fit it all in to one paragraph. This is truly an epic film and it’s one that works. Inman’s travels through the different regions is extremely entertaining because he sees so many different kinds of people. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a reverend who gets banished from his town for getting a slave woman pregnant, Giovanni Ribisi plays a man who is using the war to his advantage in treacherous ways, and Natalie Portman is a woman who’s lost nearly everything. It’s a journey that has layers and is at times heartbreaking, touching, and hilarious. This may sound cheesy, but it really felt like an adventure.

While this adventure through the crumbling South, Ada’s own personal adventure in Cold Mountain is just as interesting. It’s a town in utter despair with the casualties of war posted on a board in the middle of town. The town seems to be dying just like the men that went off to fight, and watching it happen can prove for some rough viewing. The Civil War has always been seen as a war where Americans killed their fellow men, and that macrocosmic idea is taken to just one town where the violence of the war bleeds into this area that hasn’t seen any actual battle. It’s a different kind of struggle for survival and even though it isn’t as epic a journey as Inman, it never bored me. This is another surprising thing about this movie. It’s nearly 3 hours but I was never bored.

This is a huge cast so forgive me if I can’t get to everyone. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman both do very good work in this movie and their chemistry is believable even though the amount of screen time they share compared to how long the movie is is very small. A lot of the minor characters really steal the show however. Both Hoffman and Portman are two that really stand out, but I also have to give credit to Brendan Gleeson and Jack White, of all people. The real stand out performance, however, is Renée Zelwegger, who won the Academy Award for her performance, and rightfully so. The only thing that doesn’t always work for me in this movie is the writing. It gets a little too theatrical in moments that require some down to earth dialogue. It’s a very melodramatic movie at times and sometimes it works, but sometimes I found myself cringing.

Cold Mountain was a surprisingly affective movie that I don’t hear too much about. It has an incredible cast that are part of a really entertaining, but sometimes difficult story about how war can tear a nation to shreds. The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was some of the melodramatic writing that just felt forced and was probably only necessary so they’d have a clip for the Oscars. Still, that is a minor issue that doesn’t hurt the movie to bad. It’s an epic adventure that has all the ingredients for a memorable film.

Final Grade: A-

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Boogie Nights – Review

7 Jul

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most distinct voices in modern film, and I doubt that anyone would diminish the scope and power of his vision. There Will be Blood and The Master are so well photographed and told, while Magnolia tells a surreal, yet human tale. Before all this, however, there was Boogie Nights, Anderson’s break out hit from 1997. Not only was this the start of a career for Anderson, but also for Mark Wahlberg, who was known more for his rap music and work as a Calvin Klein model. To say the least, Boogie Nights is an epic film that hearkens back to the earlier films of Martin Scorsese, but it also stands alone as a singular visionary tale with P.T. Anderson’s style written all over it.

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In the late 1970s, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is one of the leading names in the pornography industry, after directing numerous successful porno films. His real dream, however, is to hook the audience with the story instead of the sex. One night at a club, Horner stumbles upon Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young guy with a seemingly non existent future and some really special talents. Adams is soon recruited by Horner and changes his name to Dirk Diggler, a name that will soon be known throughout the porn industry as the greatest male actor to grace the screen. Along with his best friend, Reed Rothchild (John C. Riley), Diggler takes the world by storm, but is soon introduced to a lifestyle of hard drugs and decisions without consequences. This takes a toll on his life, and the lives of everyone around him, and by the time the 1980s hits, it becomes time for Diggler to make some serious decisions about who he is and who he wants to be.

From the very first shot, I knew that I was about to watch a masterfully shot film. The first three minutes is a long take that starts on the marquee of a theater, travels through the street, and finally into the nightclub where we meet Jack Horner and Eric Adams, soon to be Dirk Diggler. I’m a real sucker for long takes like this, and it reminded me very much of the famous long take from GoodfellasBoogie Nights is made of quite a few of these long takes, with another in particular happening about halfway through the movie, which switches gears into overdrive. Other than that, this is just a really nice movie to look at. The outdoor scenes are very bright and really set the tone of the success that Dirk and his friends are feeling. Once the 1980s hits, a lot of the scenes are shot at night which also signifies a massive tonal shift. The way Anderson shoots this movie isn’t just artistic and technically proficient, but it also helps tell the story, and that’s awesome.

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While this is a story about Mark Wahlberg’s character, it’s important to note that it also tells the story of many other characters who come to be associated with Diggler. Other than Burt Reynolds and John C. Riley, Boogie Nights also stars Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I would much rather look at this movie as an ensemble pieces about a time period and the consequences of that time period, with the rise and fall of Wahlberg’s character as a catalyst. Anderson pays such close attention to period detail that it’s hard to argue this movie isn’t about the period in which it takes place. Each character has a different problem or situation that reflects a part of that time, and it gets even worse when the 1980s arrive and they have to come to terms with their past choices.

I keep mentioning the 1980s like it’s some ominous presence looking over the sun drenched horizon of the 1970s, and that’s sort of what it is in this movie. It also marks a point where Anderson makes some poor storytelling choices. The first half of the movie that takes place in the 1970s is note perfect, and I don’t have single complaint. Things take a turn for the worse right when the 80s arrive. This is when the fall of the characters begin, and it’s handled well for the most part, but some of it is just way too over the top and kind of pulled me out of the movie. There’s a really powerful sequence during this part that is followed up by a striking moment with Don Cheadle’s character. This scene alone is really cool and odd, but fitting it in after some really disturbing stuff was like sticking a Spider-Man comic into the Book of Revelations. This scene is really what I’m talking about, and it pulled me out of the movie so much that I just kept seeing all of the over the top moments as individual scenes that could have been turned down a few notches to make a better fit. These are really only a few scenes in a movie that’s two and a half hours long, so it doesn’t hurt the movie too bad, but I felt that I had to mention it.

Boogie Nights is simply a movie that can not be ignored. I consider Paul Thomas Anderson to be one of the best film makers working today, so seeing the movie that kick started his career was a real treat. This film is more than the pornography industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a film about the kinds of decisions that were made by a kind of people that led to a decade of serious trouble. It’s a rise and fall story with a time period that sort of act like characters themselves. This isn’t exactly a perfect movie, but I’d recommend Boogie Nights to anyone and everyone.

Synecdoche, New York – Review

1 Apr

Here’s a movie that the late, great Roger Ebert called the best film of the decade back when it was released in 2008. This is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Before this film, Kaufman established himself as one of the greatest modern day story tellers with his screenplays of Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He’s a writer like no other, and the puzzles that his movies present are proof. That being said, Synecdoche, New York comes off as his most personal and most challenging work yet.

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Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director working in New York City. His most recent play is a success, but life at home couldn’t be worse. First, Cotard begins to suspect that he’s suffering from a degenerative disorder that’s practically shutting his body down. To make matters worse, his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) takes their daughter to Berlin for an art show, but never return. To cope with this, Cotard begins working on a personal and extremely realistic piece of theater by constructing a replica of New York City inside a giant warehouse with thousands of actors playing real life people acting out situations that have happened in day to day life. As the line of Cotard’s fiction and Cotard’s reality begin to become one, he begins to lose all track of time and control on his other relationships with multiple women in his theater group.

Anyone who is familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s work knows that he is not afraid to put our minds through a cinematic blender. Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich subscribed to a set of rules that seem only to exist in Kaufman’s mind. Things don’t have to make sense or follow any linear design as long as his story is there and he gets across what he’s trying to say, even though you may not get everything the first time through. You can’t really say that with most directors, but Kaufman makes it work. Unlike the other movies I’ve mentioned, the story in Synecdoche, New York completely goes off the rails leaving time and space to be a minor footnote to a work that’s much more important.

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Aside from being mind boggling in story, Synecdoche, New York also succeeded at boggling my emotions. This is one hell of a heavy movies despite how completely off the walls it is. There’s so much stuff to find hilarious in this movie, for example doctors who do their best to give their patients as little insight as possible, a psychiatrist who doesn’t seem to be even listening, and a character who buys and lives in a house that’s perpetually on fire. However, and this is a huge however, once the movie starts getting into its later scenes and I began to realize more and more the message of the movie, I found myself getting hopelessly sad in a way that a movie hasn’t done to me in a while. So, yes, the movie is really funny in many scenes, but it’s overall quite upsetting, but upon closer inspection it may give you a surge of great joy.

With the huge emotional response and the fact that this world Kaufman has made exists outside the realm of conventional rules, it’s safe to say that watching this movie just once is a bad idea. Going back and thinking about this movie more has made me realize all of the little clues, themes, and symbols that I completely failed to notice the first time through. It’ll almost be like watching the movie for the first time all over again now that I know how much it really plays with your mind. The only complaint I can possibly have about this movie is that it seemed to go on and on. For a movie as strange as this with all of its complicated storytelling, it is a little bit long and I felt it necessary to take a little break in the middle.

Going back to what Roger Ebert said about Synecdoche, New York being the best movie of the decade, I wouldn’t go that far in my opinion. It is still a truly remarkable movie that feels very personal to Kaufman, but also works great as a movie that exists to figure out the meaning of the story and piece together all the clues that seem to be subliminally sneaked into the movie. Still, this movie is not for everyone. It’s so complex and difficult that the casual movie watcher may not be interested. For the nice audience that it is directed too, however, this is a fascinating and original film that fits perfectly into Charlie Kaufman’s filmography and succeeds especially as his debut film.

Happiness – Review

21 May

Every so often I watch a movie that shakes me to the very core of my being. The reason I got so interested in Happiness was because I kept hearing so many great things about it, but also so many warnings that it is one of the most disturbing films I’ll ever watch. I thought to myself that I’m gonna have to check it out, so that’s exactly what I did. To put it briefly, Happiness is a remarkable movie in terms of everything that exists that makes a movie good. It’s literally all here. That being said, there are many things that are disturbing about this movie other than the obvious one, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see this film go down as a classic in the years to come.

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The story in this film is a collage of different, every day people whose lives collide due to their obsessive crusades to find happiness in their lives, even though the lack of true joy is their own fault. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams) is the youngest of three sisters, and has recently been feeling lonesome and unfulfilled. Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle) is the middle sister, and even though she has made a successful career as a novelist, she still has a hard time connecting with people on a true emotional level. When her pathetic neighbor Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) anonymously sexually harasses her over the phone, Helen becomes desperate to find the caller and begin a relationship. The eldest sister is Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Stevenson) who is happily married to Bill (Dylan Baker), a wealthy psychiatrist with a few dark secrets of his own, most of which involve pre-pubescent boys. Finally, Mona (Louise Lasser) and Lenny (Ben Gazzara) are the parents of the three sisters, and are now going through a separation which Lenny refuses to end in a divorce.

What’s really interesting about this movie is both how unapologetic it is, but also how real it is. Life, even for average, nothing special people can be darkly comedic and deeply disturbing, just like this movie. There’s nothing in Happiness that is so over the top you wouldn’t believe it could really happen. Everything in this movie can and does happen, and that’s what makes it so hard to watch at times. I found myself cringing and shifting around uncomfortably even when I was laughing at humor that may be darker than any movie I’ve ever seen before this one. There’s a great line in this movie where Helen leans over to Joy and says, “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” To this Joy responds, “But I’m not laughing.”

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That little line of dialogue sums up the movie better than I ever could. We’re watching the lives of these people suffer from enormous pressures, all in the guise of some twisted comedy. So, it’s a comedy and we’re supposed to laugh at them… Right? When I think of comedies, I normally think of films that are pretty light hearted and goofy, and sometimes I laugh at things that I feel like I shouldn’t. Even those movies where the laughing comes with guilt maintain a certain sense of silliness or an upbeat tone. Not Happiness. There is nothing upbeat here, and yet we still laugh. That may be the most disturbing part of the movie. Sure, the pedophile is disturbing enough to keep many viewers away, but this one has real world consequences. We’re laughing at these people, but you don’t see them laughing.

I’ve been told that if you’re going to write something weird, it has to be done in such a way where the writing doesn’t become aware of the strangeness. That’s where Happiness finds it’s footing. There’s nothing especially remarkable about the way this movie is shot. It could easily be a stage play, and sometimes that’s what it feels like. The writer/director of this movie, Todd Solondz, writes this in such a way that is weird, but made me believe like I was watching reality. Perhaps that’s what this movie is really about: a sad reality that we all live in.

The characters in Happiness are pathetic creatures and I’m a son of a bitch for laughing at them, but who could blame me? This movie is dark comedy and it’s darkest, but it’s also drama at it’s most dramatic. This film mostly takes place in the suburbs of New Jersey. Not some bustling city, but a quiet suburb. Much like American Beauty (although this film preceded it by a year), we get to see the suburban dream completely shattered by evils and despair. Recommending this movie is hard due to a lot of the content in it, but if you can stomach some truly disturbing stuff than Happiness may provide you with the strangest and most uncomfortable laughter you’ve ever felt.

The Master – Review

14 Oct

One statement I don’t think I’m ever going to have to say is, “That new Paul Thomas Anderson movie sucked.” I just don’t think he has it in his genes to make anything less than spectacular. I guess you guys all know where this review is headed now. Yes. The Master was a great movie and definitely a contender for multiple Academy Awards, hopefully even to win Best Picture.

 

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has survived World War II, but not entirely. During the war, he became an alcoholic, and even went so far as mixing poisonous chemicals into his drinks. With the war over, he can’t seem to find a job due to his violent outbursts and manic  tendencies. After scuttling a yacht during a party, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a group called The Cause. Dodd immediately sees potential for experimentation with Quell and aides him in beating his addictions and behavior. But is he helping Quell or himself? Does he really mean what he says?

First things first. If Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t win an Oscar for his performance, I will get out of town, jump in a lake, and swim myself into oblivion. Wow, that’s weird, but that’s the equivalent of how I’d feel. I never got the feeling that I was watching Joaquin Phoenix. I felt like I was watching the life of Freddie Quell unfold before my very eyes. He was absolutely fantastic. I’d say it’s not just the best performances of the year, but one of the best performances of all time.

 

The genius of this movie is the way the story presents itself. There isn’t a huge dramatic climax that completely changes the direction of the story. Besides a couple scenes, many of the dramatic beats are very subtle and down to earth. That’s the best way to describe the movie. Down to earth. As a viewer, I felt like I wasn’t watching a conventional narrative, but more just a chronicling of a point in this man’s life. It’s never hard to believe or far fetched, which goes hand in hand with the subtlety of the entire thing. This proves that a movie doesn’t have to be loud or in your face to be intense.

Speaking of, this was a very intense film. Hoffman and Amy Adams play their roles to the best of their abilities and it shows. Hoffman seems like he could start a real movement if he wanted to, and Adams is a quiet storm of boiling anger. The set design and costuming are also very authentic without being extravagant. To top it all off, Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack thumps and screeches in the background like a lurking malevolent force. Anyone who has seen There Will be Blood knows that Greenwood has this strange way of making off tempo music work perfectly in a scene.

 

The Master is a phenomenal work of artistic fiction that I think is destined to become a classic that’s studied for years to come. It is packed with controversial thematic material that is bound to spark heated discussion. It’s intense, expertly made, and at the risk of being corny, proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is a master at his craft.