Pirate Radio – A Movie Review

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May 162010

In the 1960s a group of 8 rogue DJs on a boat in the middle of the Northern Atlantic, played rock records and broke the law all for the love of music. The songs they played united and defined an entire generation and drove the British government crazy. By playing rock ‘n roll they were standing up against the British government who did everything in their power to shut them down.

Genres: Art/Foreign and Comedy; Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.; Release Date: November 13th 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh
Directed by: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis’ first ‘non romantic comedy film’ is really another romantic comedy film- it’s just that the romantic bit gets swamped within 20 other sub-plots so you try and not notice.

The Boat That Rocked sees Carl (Tom Surridge) go aboard Radio Rock- a pirate radio station owned by Quentin (Bill Nighy) whose DJ’s (Phillip Semour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O’ Dowd, Rhys Darby, etc.) broadcast 24-hour rock and roll music to the UK. They are adored by the populace but hated by the government, including the Minister of Communications and his chief subordinate who aim to shut them down.

If that was the extent of the plot then it would probably be a 90 minute film. However the Boat That Rocked has so many little sub-plots- many seeming like excuses to put in another montage or cameo cast appearance that the time has ballooned out to 154mins and it does tell at times. Furthermore.

But these faults are more than made up for in the performances; all of which are good- and some are outstanding. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Count is a lovable character who approaches everything with great gusto, while Chris O’ Dowd’s Simple Simon has a wonderful part in the middle section of the movie which brings a little bit of emotion to what is a pretty emotionally vacant movie. Nick Frost is cheeky as Dr Dave and finally Rhys Darby- fresh from Flight of the Conchords- simply shines in his role as the unpopular and daggy Angus who nonetheless gets arguably the best line in the whole movie.

I have been wanting to see this movie since I saw the trailer for the very first time. We finally watched it as a download a couple of weeks ago. The plot sounded interesting and I was hoping to see a comedy that wasn’t as predictable and forced romantic as a lot of comedies are. I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, this isn’t the most profound story ever told, but I wanted to have fun, and this movie definitely gave it to me. Another bonus is the great soundtrack, which carries the whole movie. After leaving the cinema you will want to listen to the songs featured in this film, just so you can enjoy the feeling of it a little longer. This film is funny from the beginning to the end, and there were moments when I couldn’t stop laughing. If you want to see a feel-good movie with a plot that was, at least as far as I know, not used before, than this is the right film for you.

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Synecdoche, New York – A Movie Review

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Mar 232009

synechdoche.jpgTheater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. His life catering to suburban blue-hairs at the local regional theater in Schenectady, New York is looking bleak. His wife Adele has left him to pursue her painting in Berlin, taking their young daughter Olive with her. His therapist, Madeleine Gravis, is better at plugging her best-seller than she is at counseling him. A new relationship with the alluringly candid Hazel has prematurely run aground. And a mysterious condition is systematically shutting down each of his autonomic functions, one by one. Worried about the transience of his life, he leaves his home behind. He gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in New York City, hoping to create a work of brutal honesty. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a growing mockup of the city outside. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele’s friend, Maria. His lingering attachments to both Adele and Hazel are causing him to helplessly drive his new marriage to actress Claire into the ground. Sammy and Tammy, the actors hired to play Caden and Hazel, are making it difficult for the real Caden to revive his relationship with the real Hazel. The textured tangle of real and theatrical relationships blurs the line between the world of the play and that of Caden’s own deteriorating reality. The years rapidly fold into each other, and Caden buries himself deeper into his masterpiece. As he pushes the limits of his relationships, both personally and professionally, a change in creative direction arrives in Millicent Weems, a celebrated theater actress who may offer Caden the break he needs.

Genres: Comedy and Drama; Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.; Release Date: October 24th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Tilda Swinton

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Lay and I watched this movie last weekend. We’ve both come to really respect Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work, so we were interested in this movie.There’s nothing easy about ‘Synecdoche’, it is one of the most difficult films I’ve sat through. It’s the sprawling story of the tragedy that is life of Hoffman’s character.  Hoffman gives his usual understated by biting performance as his character attempts to create a play of realism and honesty. And even as he dives head first into his work, his own life is in a perpetual state of free fall.

Much of the movie was difficult to figure out (for me), but the arch of the movie is one man’s search for meaning in the midst of meaninglessness? Existence is what we make of it, and it is the choices we make that shape and define who we are and the lives we lead. Every choice brings with it a million different consequences, some seen and others that go unnoticed.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “synecdoche” as: “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).”

Kaufman tells us we are one in a world of many.  I can’t remember the exact line, but in one funeral scene, the minister suddenly says something to the effect of, “No one is an extra…each person is a star in their own play.”  We must look inward, not to others, to find peace and insight.

If life is a play, the world is our stage. We only have this one shot, no second chances. We try to control our projectories, cast roles that need to be filled. In the end, what does it matter? Will the world miss us when we’re gone? Life is what you make of it. ‘Synecdoche, New York’ dares to search for meaning, reconcile paradoxes to which there are no answers. But that doesn’t keep Kaufman from giving it his best, as tedious and heart-wrenching as it may sometimes be.

Worth watching, but be prepared to have to think. I’m still trying to decipher the meaning of the burning house.

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Savages, The – A Movie Review

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Jan 052009

The Savages Movie PosterThe last thing the two Savage siblings ever wanted to do was look back at their difficult family history. Having wriggled their way out from beneath their father’s domineering thumb, they are now firmly cocooned in their own complicated lives. Wendy is a struggling East Village playwright, AKA a temp who spends her days applying for grants, stealing office supplies and dating her very married neighbor. Jon is a neurotic college professor writing books on obscure subjects in Buffalo. Then comes the call that informs them that the father they have long feared and avoided, Lenny Savage, is slowly being consumed by dementia and they are the only ones that can help. Now, as they put their already arrested lives on hold, Wendy and Jon are forced to live together under one roof for the first time since childhood, rediscovering the eccentricities that drove each other crazy. Faced with complete upheaval and battling over how to handle their father’s final days, they are confronted with what adulthood, family and, most surprisingly, each other are really about.

Genres: Drama; Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.; Release Date: November 28th, 2007 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cara Seymour

Directed by
: Tamara Jenkins

Lay and I watched this on DVD Saturday night, and were both very pleasantly surprised. I expected a big attempt at a tear-jerker. While the story does concern the problems visited on us by aging, this is a funny, insightful, realistic story about a brother and sister who have to take on a problem that most of us sooner or later face.

Hoffman and Linney are both just terrific, and their roles are more 3 dimensional than we usually see in a film about dealing with the family crisis du jour. Both manage to take relatively unsympathetic, selfish, immature and emotionally stunted people to a place where we can understand and even like them, much like we do the family black sheep ne’er do wells in our own families.

There are some uncomfortable moments of recognition for peope who might have had the experience of having to institutionalize an aging parent or loved one–the guilt, the fear, the resentment, the family strife, the sadness. But there is also humor and even some relatively uplifting moments when these siblings manage to rise to the occasion even as they are dragged kicking and screaming to responsibility for seeing to it that an imperfect parent has at least some dignity and quality of life at the end.

The cinematography was minimalist and realistic and really stood out to me and helped tell the story. The sense of mood and place was very well done.

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Dec 292008

It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school’s strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and, indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation and Politics/Religion; Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.; Release Date: December 12th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

This is an excellent movie. While I never saw the play, I think the movie maintained the qualities of a play because of John Patrick Shanley. I felt pulled into the movie, not as a passive observer, but more like someone uncomfortably over-hearing conversations to which one should not be listening.

Hoffman pulls off one his top performances here (and think of cannon of work that comes from). He has such conviction as this priest, moments of tenderness and (possibly) righteous anger… and then those little moments, like when he suddenly asks Sister Aloysius (Streep) in the heat of their climactic argument “Have you never done wrong?” that suddenly really makes things interesting. This isn’t just bombast between two heavyweights like Hoffman and Streep, but a master’s class in subtlety, tone, the way a face looks when it tries to look controlled. This is a big performance for Streep as well, and she is perfect in the part. I am not a product of Catholic eduction, but from what I’ve heard, Streep must have some experience with it. Amy Adams has shown herself to be an excellent actress, and pulls off her part perfectly. Viola Davis has a very short part in the film, but it is critical to the story, and she teals her scene practically and goes head-to-head with Streep in one of those revelatory scenes that works on multiple levels.

Doubt will certainly be an Oscar contender, and it deserves to be there. It is an excellent drama, filmed and acted in a way that keeps the audience attention completely centered on the movie.

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Charlie Wilson's War

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Jan 062008

Charlie Wilson's WarA drama based on a Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.

Director: Mike Nichols

Genre: Biography, Drama, War

Other: 1 hr. 37 min.; Release Date: December 21st 2007 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for strong language, nudity/sexual content and some drug use.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Shiri Appleby

We saw this movie last Sunday when Lay was feeling good enough to go out finally. I’ve always love Julia Roberts, and I don’t think Tom Hanks can make a bad movie, and Charlie Wilson’s War was not the exception.

It’s nice to see a film that shows flawed human beings rising above those limitations and doing important and laudable things. I was prepared for a simplistic “good guy, bad guy” treatment. I was entranced when that wasn’t the treatment. It also was refreshing that the stock “America is the bad guy” approach wasn’t taken. Mistakes get made. People are flawed. People have self interests and aren’t always completely altruistic.

Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson, a senator who in 1980 stumbled into a covert war to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. How he stumbles into it and the various parties who coerce and assist him comprise the meat of the movie. Julia Roberts, the film’s weakest link, plays a Texas millionaire who serves as the catalyst for the operation. I wasn’t remotely convinced by Roberts’ performance, and she seems too young for the part, but the movie succeeds in spite of her. Philip Seymour Hoffman can’t help but steal every scene he’s in as a CIA operative in league with Wilson. And Hanks himself manages his good ‘ol boy role with aplomb.

This is one of the “must see” movies.

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 Culture, Movies  Comments Off on Capote
Nov 132005

Capote (2005)

Truman Capote (Hoffman), during his research for his book In Cold Blood, an account of the murder of a Kansas family, the writer develops a close relationship with Perry Smith, one of the killers.

Directed by
Bennett Miller

Biography, Drama

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, Allie Mickelson, Marshall Bell, Araby Lockhart, Robert Huculak, R.D. Reid, Rob McLaughlin, Harry Nelken

Busy weekend for us for movies. Lay and I went to watch Capote last night. The 7:30 show was sold out by the time we arrived, so we came back for the 10:30 show. There were only about a dozen people in that show. The movie is currently showing at only one theater in Tampa and one in St. Petersburg. I really liked the film, but Lay thought it sucked.

The film is certainly stark, and Lay thought it moved slowly. I thought it moved deliberately and with intensity.

The direction by the relatively unknown Bennett Miller is personal, evocative and affecting, but without being over-dramatic. This is helped immensely by Philip Seymour Hoffmann’s incredible performance as Capote, as well as solid acting from Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Chris Cooper. Cooper plays K.B.I. Agent Alvin Dewey. His portrayal is intense, but not over-done.

The cinematography by Adam Kimmel is suitably gray and moody, with many evocative views of the flat Kansas plains, but most of the screen time is spent with the camera focused on Hoffmann – all of it time well spent. The film focuses on Capote’s research on the book “In Cold Blood” and the personal journey that his relationship and identification with killer Perry Smith became (Capote says at one point that it was like they grew up in the same house, and he went out the front door while Perry went out the back), a compelling and complicated relationship that this uncompromising film presents in moving detail. I picked up on this, along with some other comments, that seemed to show how Capote like to make things all about himself, and how he fancied that he’d had some terrible life experiences.

After exploding to meteoric fame with his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote became the New York caf? society’s darling, quite the gay-man-child-bon-vivant. He drank and held court with the best of New York, which just also happened to be the nexus of television in the early 60s. Before long Capote was the quintessential modern celebrity, famous for being famous. And he did it all before our eyes.

Philip Seymour Hoffman does not so much play Capote as become him. And not just in mannerism, no mean feat, but in personality, because we are convinced that Hoffman feels what Capote felt, cries over the lies, accepts his moral failings. For a short story writer-raconteur from New Orleans, Capote found himself at the center of a nationally enthralling multiple homicide, facing the ultimate journalist’s Faustian dilemma: if he perpetrates a lie for the sake of exposing the truth, is he ever worthy of redemption. Capote, in the end, concluded that he wasn’t; he never wrote another book. He descended into drunkenness and died a lonely soul. This is not the stuff of Holly Golightly.

While I haven’t read the biography by Gerald Clarke on which it’s based, the script seems to hit enough salient details to evoke Capote’s frame of mind, without inundating the audience with more than would fit in a feature-length film. I suppose one of my only complaints about the film would be that at times the conversations take on a sheen of Hollywood, saying things for dramatic impact that perhaps might not have been said in real life. But then again, I never met Capote, so who knows for sure.

All in all, this was a deeply engrossing film, and one I would highly recommend, especially if you’re a fan of Truman Capote.

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