The Master

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix)is a former U.S. seaman, suffering from some kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that leaves him unable to function in civil society, and sees him perpetually fleeing the situations he finds himself in. One such escape attempt sees him stow away on a party boat that is commandeered by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a visionary, philosophical leader, who takes a shine to Freddie and invites him to join their program, along with Lancaster’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and the rest of their family (Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers and Rami Malek). However, the program’s gruelling processing scheme may be too much for Freddie to take, and he must decide for what benefit is it all for, anyway?the-master-dvdfab Continue reading

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Punch-Drunk Love

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a little bit different. He runs a plastic plunger company with his business partner Lance (Luis Guzman), and is constantly being hassled by his seven sisters, who belittle him and essentially ruin his life at every turn, as they have his entire life. One day, a harmonium (kind of like a small piano, I’d never heard of them before) is dropped outside the industrial estate on which he works, and shortly afterwards a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) shows up too. Then some more stuff happens involving a phone sex line and an awful lot of pudding.
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Magnolia

In the San Fernando Valley, a selection seemingly disconnected group of people are going through some fairly heavy moments in their live. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying in bed, being cared for by his nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is tasked with finding Earl’s estranged son. Earl’s much-younger trophy wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), is struggling to deal with the imminent death of her husband. Officer Jim (John C. Reilly) is called to investigate a disturbance, which leads to a potential murder case. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a genius child contestant on the TV Game Show What Do Kids Know?, and is just a few days away from breaking that show’s record of most consecutive wins. Jimmy Gator hosts the show, and has done for decades, but has just been diagnosed with cancer, with just months to live. Jimmy’s daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters), has a difficult relationship with her father, as well as a cocaine habit and various other issues in her life, whilst Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a former child star contestant on the aforementioned TV show, has seen his fame squandered and life thrown in turmoil when he loses his job at an electronics store. Finally, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) runs a self-help seminar on men who wish to be more successful with ladies. Mid-show, he gives an interview to a reporter (April Grace) that doesn’t necessarily go as he plans. All these stories, and more besides, will become interwoven over the course of the film’s next 24 hours.
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Hard Eight

Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is a seasoned, respected gambler and occasional con artist. He knows all the tricks, but is getting a little long in the tooth in an increasingly modern world. John (John C. Reilly) is a fool who lost all his money in Vegas trying to win enough to pay for his mother’s funeral. Sydney takes John under his wing to show him where he went wrong.screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-2-44-43-am1 Continue reading

Top 10… Philip Seymour Hoffman Films

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the recipient of this month’s Acting School over at the LAMB. I’m trying to get a bit more involved with the Lamb (hence my appearing in two recent podcasts, and hopefully a few more in the future), so I figured I’d compile a list of my favourite of Hoffman’s films for the school, which gets posted over at the LAMB on Monday.
I’ve always liked Hoffman as an actor, and not just because we’re of a similar build, especially around the midriff. He’s able to deliver a huge variety of performances, most of which I think I’ve covered in this list. And I’m aware there’s a few of his more prominent films that I’ve missed off, but that’s generally because I haven’t seen them yet (The Master, for instance). And this is a list of his best films, not his best performances, so whilst he was thoroughly deserving of his Oscar for Capote, it doesn’t appear on my list because as a film I’m not overly keen on it.

The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, assistant campaign manager to Governor Morris (George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote), who is currently locked in a battle with opposing democratic candidate Senator Pullman to win the Ohio Democratic Primary and eventually win the nomination as the next potential president. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are their campaign managers, Marisa Tomei the Times reporter out for inside information, Evan Rachel Wood a young intern with her eye on Gosling’s big man on campus, and Jeffrey Wright is the senator both sides are eager to please.

In the past few years there have been a number of talky, ‘important’ films with predominantly male all-star ensemble casts, with generally well written scripts dealing with issues whose effects can have life or death ramifications. From The Company Men, Moneyball, Margin Call and Wall Street 2, they all have something else in common – I haven’t seen them yet. It’s not that I don’t want to see them (Moneyball and Margin Call are in my LoveFilm queue and The Company Men is sat on DVD form on my shelf – Wall Street 2 will take me a while as first I must get past a hatred for Shia LaBeouf) it’s just that I don’t have many opportunities to go to the cinema, so I use them for seeing movies with a certain sense of spectacle, ones that will make the better use of a gigantic screen and that, should I happen to miss a line of dialogue from a fellow patron’s ringing phone, screaming child or popcorn-chomp, I can still follow the plot amidst the explosions and giant robots. The more dialogue-heavy, less action-y films are saved for DVD. This even applied to such masterpieces as The Social Network – I saw Toy Story 3 instead. Please don’t have a go at me about this. Rest assured that if I had the time (and the money) to see the other films at the cinema too, then I would, and there have been difficult decisions made in the past as to what must be sacrificed for a smaller screen some months down the line.
And so it is that it’s taken me a little while to watch The Ides of March, though it was well reviewed, I’m a fan of 5 of the principle players (Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti & Tomei) and The West Wing has made me at least interested in the ins and outs of American politics, more so than I am in the British trivialities. Plus, my girlfriend could be described as being more than a fan of Gosling (I’m still receiving backlash from my rant on The Notebook).
Now this isn’t a bad film, but I got the feeling that every actor involved was retreading ground they’d walked down many a time before. They all performed well – though Gosling goes a bit glary-eyed on a couple of occasions – but no-one really showed anything new. This is kind of a testament to the acting talents on display. Nobody does cynical schlubs like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, but they’re settled into a well formed groove, and who is Clooney’s smoothly persuasive senator than a slightly more ambitious Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air? Only Gosling gives something of a fresh performance, but only in terms of him being something of an impressionable blank slate of contradictions. His Stephen has supposedly worked on more campaigns by the time he’s 30 than most of his peers ten years his senior, yet it sends him reeling when he discovers that the world of politics is more than occasionally played with cards to the chest and the odd stacked deck.
At times the plot goes a bit overly dramatic. The outcome from who is the presidential candidate already has the potential for phenomenal consequences, yet the scriptwriters felt the need to show the devastating effects this can also have on individual people, with the fate of Evan Rachel Wood’s intern Molly being particularly distressing. It hits the point home, but does so in too severe a manner. I feel that there was greater scope for exploring the characters of Gosling and Clooney being two sides of the same coin twenty years apart. Had equal time been spent on their stories, rather than instead focusing more on Gosling – who I never really believed in as a masterful campaign manager sought after by everyone – then this could have been more interesting. The whole poster campaign was set up to show them, and their freakishly symmetrical faces, as being the same person anyway, yet this seemed completely lacking in the film.
Were this the first film I’d seen with most of these actors in I’d no doubt have been floored by the incredible performances on display. I don’t mean to take anything away from them – they are all consummate professionals who are incredible at what they do and I look forward to seeing them do it again – it’s just I’ve seen them all do it before.
Choose life 7/10

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman has often been described as a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. The legend goes that there are twelve different stories in every film in Hollywood, and with his debut script Being John Malkovich, Kaufman wrote the thirteenth, and there’re so many ideas in Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that they probably count for numbers fourteen through twenty, and fortunately they’re all on the List. So after working on so many inspiring and imaginative modern classics, Kaufman’s directorial debut is a disappointingly convoluted tangle, as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s theatre director Caden Cotard struggles to create a play based on his own life, whilst struggling with a myriad of relationships and a mystery illness.

Whilst the entirety of the plot – also written by Kaufman – is positively brimming with ideas and ingenuity, from Caden seeing himself in cartoons and commercials, to a character living in a perpetually burning house, the lack of clarity between how much takes place in the real world, how much is in the obsessive director’s head and how much is part of the play is at best frustrating and at times infuriating. It doesn’t help that many of the actors look alike, possibly on purpose, with Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Emily Watson all used to play the same character in different levels of life, with the play being featured in the play, requiring Caden to cast himself, casting himself in the play of his own life. Time skips in the blink of an eye for us and for him – his four year old daughter with Catherine Keener’s bohemian artist ages seven years in a matter of days.

You get the feeling that the end result of the film is exactly what Kaufman set out to achieve, with every layer of obsession and confusion being carefully planned and perfectly executed, but when I tried to make some sense of it all, my brain started to run out of my ear.

Choose Life
6/10