Tag Archives: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was a Texas congressman, a jolly womanizer but otherwise fairly low-level until his good friend former beauty queen Joanne (Julia Roberts) convinces him to take time away from his hot tub shenanigans to make a little trip to help the Afghan people.

In the early 80s he visits the Pakistani president who is frustrated with inadequate American support in opposing the Soviet Union. Pakistan is flooded with Afghan refugees (a fifth of them!), but thousands of others have been slain. They send Wilson to a refugee camp and he can’t help charliebut be moved by what he sees there. Going home a changed man in his heart, he rallies around the cause. His personal life, though is still a shambles: US Attorney Rudy Giuliani is leading an investigation against him for allegations of cocaine use.

Philip Seymour Hoffman provides brilliant support as a maverick CIA guy who is leading the covert US effort in Afghanistan. Wilson ultimately multiplies the American contribution by a hundred fold, and it becomes a huge part of the foreign policy of the time, but there aren’t exactly a lot of easy answers here and Hoffman’s crazy windmilling arms tell us a lot about the near-impossibility of his job.

Julia Roberts is of course poised as hell, the perfect choice for a controlled, smart, beautiful woman who knows what she wants, and how to manipulate men to get it. The few scenes she shares with Amy Adams, playing Wilson’s administrative assistant, are quite punchy, their rivalry crackling. Emily Blunt makes a brief appearance in her underwear as well, which means I didn’t know who Emily Blunt was back in 2007 when I would have seen this for the first time.

Tom Hanks is commanding as always, but I have to wonder whether he was the right man for the role. Some of the juiciest material of this “true story” seems to have all but disappeared, his drug use played down (have we ever seen Hanks snort cocaine?), his DUI unmentioned, and his worry about what happens when the US inevitably disengages from Afghanistan only vaguely alluded to.

The truth is, there were unintended consequences to this involvement. When Afghanistan lay in ruins, the US pulled out, washed their hands of death and destruction they had funded, and this left a vacuum for Osama bin Laden to emerge as a power player. I have read from multiple sources that Tom Hanks couldn’t deal with the 9-11 implications, so they were largely written out, with just the identifiable sound of a plane flying over Washington hinting at what was to come. The film is quite good, almost great, but I do wonder if someone else was bringing it to life, could it have maybe been a Dr. Strangelove for a new generation? I guess we’ll never know.

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Yes, Virginia, It IS Possible to Have A Drag Queen Revue Without Lady Marmalade

Another double header – one that’s pretty good, one that’s pretty much not.

The good: Any Day Now, starring the ever fabulous Alan Cumming as Rudy, a down-on-his-luck anydaynowdrag queen whose whole life gets rewritten when his junkie neighbour abandons her son one night on a binge (and then gets picked up and put away by the vice squad). Rudy doesn’t quite know what do with Marco (Isaac Leyva), the quiet teenager with down syndrome, but he knows social services isn’t the answer. Together with his new partner Paul (Garret Dillahunt), they decide to adopt the kid and give Marco the kind of stable, loving home he needs. Except: it’s the 1970s. The would-be custody case turns into a witchhunt against the gay “deviant” lifestyle and the court system is quick to condemn them despite loads of evidence of them actually being really good parents. If you’re an Alan Cumming fan, as I am, then stop 119248_bbreading and just watch it already. It’s worth it just to hear him sing. It’s kind of melodramatic and manages to be both overblown and oversimplified, and yet Leyva’s smile lights up a screen and his two dads, and the fact that it’s taken the script 30 years to be made, remind us why movies like this exist. It has been a hard road for gay rights, but this film transcends that to point not just at the men who are being discriminated against, but the poor kid whose needs are being ignored because of a reprehensible justice system that fails to reflect any humanity. Warning: total tear jerker.

The not so good: Flawless, where Robert DeNiro plays a retired cop who strokes out during a crisis in his building. He’s too proud to leave his apartment after the resulting partial paralysis flawless3and is forced to hire a drag queen called Busty Rusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to help him in his recovery. Neither is very happy about the arrangement, and lots of gay slurs and hate speech is bandied about, but as you know from all oddball couple movies, they’ll soon grow to like each other, and then grow to need each other: aww. The script is…oh you know, some clever synonym for absolute failure (real sample: “You shot me? Why’d you shoot me?…You shot her! Why’d you shoot her?”…Normally I’d say you can’t make this shit up, except Joel Schumacher did). The drag queen character is…offensive. At best. It’s complete stereotype and would have been outdated even in 1999. I feel embarrassed for having watched this.

A treat:

Sibling Relationships (Biologically Related)

TMP
Time again for Thursday Movie Picks. Sibling week hits just two weeks away from when we leave for sunny California where we will see my own brother who I haven’t seen since Christmas. Let’s hope our reunion goes smoother than they did in these three amazing films.

Rain man

Rain Man (1988)- Tom Cruise has some serious daddy issues to work out finally gets his chance when he discovers that he has an autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman). Their road trip may start out as Charlie’s selfish scheme to get his inheritance back but spending time with his brother soon becomes its own reward in one of Hollywood’s all-time great feel-good movies.

The Savages (2007)- Neither Wendy (Laura Linney) or Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are in great shape when their estranged father’s dementia progresses to the point that he needs to be placed in a nursing home. The always-amazing Linney and Hoffman are completely believable as brother and sister both at first when spending time together dealing with this family crisis is completely uncomfortable and finally when they start actually enjoying each other’s company.

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married (2008)– Before this movie came out, I never would have thought that I’d like Anne Hathaway in anything. She reinvents herself completely for this though as a tactless drug addict on temporary leave from rehab to attend her sister’s bizarre wedding. I could have easily picked this for father-daughter or mother-daughter relationships but it fits this category better. The sisters have the only relationship in this family that actually may see some healing.

A Most Wanted Man

Post-911 Germany is scrambling to make sure nobody uses their country for terrorist organization again. Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of the few “good” ones left in an intelligence unit largely corrupted by CIA, but his burnout is evident. When a young Russian-Chechen enters the country illegally, ostensibly looking for asylum, Bachmann decides to use the refugee to move up the ladder, hopefully toward a Muslim philanthropist who Bachmann believes is using charities as a front to fund extremist operations.wanted

Hoffman looks terrible in this film, which kind of fits with the character, who’s a bloated wreck, but it’s still painful to watch. He’s good though, if you overlook his German accent occasionally sounding Irish. Rachel McAdams plays a lawyer trying to help the refugee Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) claim political asylum. Dobrygin plays tortured and traumatized very well but McAdams seems miscast and out of her depth.

This movie is interesting but seems to have tried to pack too much into one single movie, so it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s also the least thrilling espionage thriller I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s not gripping because it gets bogged down in the details. And there’s no real heart. Who are we supposed to care about? The titular character, supposedly this Issa, is supposed to be mysterious. People are arguing over whether to arrest him now, or use him as bait to uncover his hidden motives, not just because he could lead them up the chain, but because they believe he himself may actually be a jihadist. The audience is meant to see him as a threat lying in wait, only he’s such a pathetic character that there is no real urgency, no real menace. In fact, the movie’s strongest sense of sinister undertone comes from conversations between Hoffman and Robin Wright, playing a CIA agent. The actors and director Anton Corbijn hint masterfully at malevolence.

It’s a mostly subtle film that makes you wonder how far is too far. How much should we infringe on someone’s rights in the name of “fighting terrorism”?  This movie will leave you unsettled, with a bitter taste in your mouth, both for the frustrating geopolitical policy, and for Hoffman’s swan song, his last completed movie.

Almost Famous

I’m watching Almost Famous and I know you don’t need to be sold on it. It’s terrific. But sometimes, between viewings, you forget how terrific. I’m just eleven minutes in, at the part when the sister, played by Zooey Deschanel, leaves and she bequeaths her record collection to almosther little brother. He flips through those albums (actual saved albums of director Cameron Crowe) and dreams are born. Just watching him discover music that will open up his world wakes something up inside me, like the infinite possibility of childhood. Like you could fall in love with anything, any time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a great performance; this is the first time I’ve watched a movie of his since his passing and really felt his loss. Frances McDormand can’t help but be excellent. Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson give star-making performances (even all this time later, seeing him on screen in Gone Girl still prompted the whisper, isn’t that the kid from Almost Famous?). Rainn Wilson, Jay Baruchel, Nick Swarsdon, Eric Stonestreet and Mitch Hedberg all make “before they were stars” appearances, solidifying Crowe’s casting genius.

Almost Famous had triple the music budget of the average movie, and it was worth every penny. Peter Frampton was onboard to write music for the movie’s fictional band, Stillwater. But ultimately this movie hits home for a lot of us because it’s about discovery. Do you remember the first album you ever bought? Listening to a track obsessively? Memorizing lyrics? Calling in to your favourite radio station? Pouring over the liner notes? Music is the gateway to our growing up, and to witness William naive and wide-eyed bumping up against the most cynical of industries is a little like watching ourselves encounter the big bad world for the first time.