The Film Gang

A Most Wanted Man

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Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, or read it below.
 

 
Months after his untimely death in February of this year, the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to capture the imaginations and hearts of moviegoers. This is clear from his first moments on screen in A Most Wanted Man, the latest film adaptation of a John Le Carré espionage thriller. Set in post 9-11 Germany, it trades militant Islamism for Communism in a neo Cold War combat between the West and The Rest. Hoffmann is Günther Bachmann, a German operative in a dark force functioning in deep cover. He must unravel and counteract a potential threat posed by a Muslim Chechen torture victim who is seeking to connect with an articulate intellectual interlocutor. This interlocutor may or may not be financially implicated in money laundering ventures bankrolling arms purchases for nefarious purposes. Given the contemporary geopolitical situation, little about the plot is surprising. It is predictable, with righteously motivated quasi-simpatico villains and flawed would-be heroes, Le Carre’s formula. What holds viewer attention are the ways in which characters interact in what can seem yet another cynically played high stakes game of chess with the ‘Free World’ as its prize.

Consistent with Le Carrés vision, we are frequently left wondering who is free, if anyone. The entities arrayed in A Most Wanted Man, are local, national and global. They are caught in ceaseless competition between separate security services ostensibly engaged in a common purpose. But they are unrelentingly as ruthless in their internal rivalries with one another as with their state and non-state adversaries. The story inevitably involves finance capital and its role in making all things possible in this case a means for Willem Dafoe to showcase his penchant for moral ambiguity. Homayun Ershadi of Kite Runner fame is a puzzling presence. Robin Wright exemplifies American assurance and is almost as arresting as Hoffmann in her appearances as the face of a still very strong superpower projecting itself.

Le Carré is especially good at complicating characters by conferring upon them crises of conscience. Much like Tinker Tailor’s George Smiley, Bachmann recognizes that the other side has legitimate grievances and never loses sight of this fact while doing his duty. He does not think himself or his job virtuous, only nastily necessary and is all too aware of his own flaws and foibles, reminding himself of his failings whenever others are not ensuring that they do not escape his or their consciousness.

Bachmann has many enemies: His own doubts, his opponents’ capacities to make mayhem, and the sinister certitude of crusading colleagues and compatriots. This quality of self-questioning keeps our attention and moves the film along even when talk overrides action sequences. A Most Wanted Man is not so much a whodunit as a how to deal with it. Even so, it must be read carefully. What is being communicated when a central character whose function is to counsel interfaith tolerance and dialogue is exposed as an agent fueling hostilities? What does that say about those sincerely pursuing peace through communication?

Bachmann is the foil for the spy who understands himself and others to be going through the motions of saving the world when there are no winners or losers, but we who watch may draw different conclusions. The film runs the real risk of reinforcing stereotypes of Muslims as inscrutable “others” who are implacable foes of non-Muslims. Le Carré succeeds at humanizing his protagonists and antagonists, but we as viewers owe it to ourselves and them to demystify his ordinary every day subjects, not as rogues in sleeper cells waiting to awaken and pounce upon innocents in subways, markets or shopping malls, but as regular people, a minority of whom may well at times resort to extreme measures in response to perceived provocations. After all most people are just trying to live their lives.

Boyhood

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Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and watch the trailer below.

Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood, was a very risky venture. You’ve likely heard that it took over twelve years to make, and that he used the same cast throughout. That, in itself, was daring  – taking the chance that each of the cast members would be available for a twelve year shoot.

But, I think there was an even greater risk. Generally, movies succeed on the basis of disguising themselves as reality. We don’t want to enter the theatre and be reminded, over and over, that what we are watching is an assemblage of hundreds of hours of preparation and execution designed to fool us into believing that we’re witnessing a few seamless hours in the lives of the characters.

Linklater must have known that if he succeeded in getting to the finish line, the reality that he’d have created something never attempted in the annals of film history would likely ensure that most folks would be very aware that they were watching a movie. Which is to say – the desired outcome of ‘getting lost’ in the film might well be diminished.

Fortunately, sometimes great risks produce great outcomes, and I am happy to report that Boyhood is among them.

So, what is Boyhood about? Ostensibly, it’s about the childhood, pubescence,  adolescence, and early adulthood of a bright guy named Mason, and about the lives of his closest family members. But I think it’s also a film about time – about how humans negotiate it, use it, abuse it, and, especially, about its velocity.

That Boyhood is about time and its manifestations is no surprise. Prior to Boyhood, my favorite Linklater films were the ‘Before’ trio: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Obviously, Linklater is artfully obsessed with time.

The film opens with six year old Mason lying on his back on a schoolyard lawn,

gazing pensively into the sky. His mom, Olivia, arrives to take him home. In the car, she asks him several questions generated by his teacher’s concerns. Mason’s simple answers establish immediately that he is a bright and unpretentious kid – a magnet for our attention and affections.

Next we are introduced to Mason’s precocious sister, Samantha. Samantha is played beautifully by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei. And we fall in love with her, too.

We now are beginning to know three of the four major characters – sister, brother, and mom. And soon we will meet the estranged father of the family, Mason Sr., played with characteristic excellence by Ethan Hawke.

We discover that mother Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette, has a penchant for choosing partners with unhealthy habits. Mason Sr. is an inveterate smoker. He is followed in Olivia’s chain of love interests by an abusive alcoholic, who, in turn, is followed by a guy with an incipient drinking problem.

Boyhood is a powerful portrait of the all too familiar problems faced by many single parent families – divorces, frequent moves, financial difficulties, a disarming rootlessness. Linklater, the endearing Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason Jr., and the entire cast have made a memorable, perhaps even, a great film. Don’t miss it.

 

Begin Again

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Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above.
 

Snowpiercer

Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, or read it below.
  

Snowpiercer, a Film by Bong Joon-Ho

Summer is an acknowledged times for blockbusters. Snowpiercer the latest film by Korea’s Bong Joon Ho, is an apocalyptic dystopic entrant into that category. Bong Joon-Ho may be familiar to moviegoers as the director who brought us the creepy horror flick The Host (also known as Monster) and a poignant melodrama, Mother. Qualities in evidence in both these previous works recur in Snowpiercer: Bong’s penchant for the macabre and his ability to incite intense emotional responses from viewers.

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Jersey Boys

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Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, and read it below.

 

Jersey Boys, A Film By Clint Eastwood.

If it’s challenging to try to bring a hit musical to the screen, it can be no less vexing to evaluate such an adaptation. Broadway smash hit Jersey Boys, based on a book co-authored by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and reconfigured as a Clint Eastwood film, has already made a big splash, as far as publicity goes. It needs no further hype or buzz. John Lloyd Young, who created a memorable stage version of real-life elfin doo-wop falsetto icon Frankie Valli, reprises his role for this motion picture.

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Ida

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Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.

 

Ida, as we say in English, (the name is pronounced eeda in Polish) is a film that could as well be called Ida & Wanda, or so it seems to me.

I’ve watched Ida four times and each time I’ve been more touched, more moved. But I’m also convinced that it’s as much a portrait of Ida’s aunt, Wanda, as it is of Ida.

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Fed Up

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Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.

For well over two decades I was in the natural foods business, so when I learned of the new documentary called Fed Up, I knew I’d watch it. And let me say, up front, that while much of the content is extremely disturbing – this is a vitally important film. I recommend it to everyone. I’ve misplaced my magic wand, but if it were handy, I’d require everyone to watch it.

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Chef

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Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, or read it below.
 

 
The work of Jon Favreau has already made an impact on American popular film. He has been executive producer for the Iron Man franchise as well as for The Avengers and the quirky Cowboys and Aliens. Chef, his latest endeavor, is distinct from its predecessors; while categorized as a comedy it nonetheless addresses several very serious matters, the most central of which revolve around parenting, more specifically fathering.

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Belle

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Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.

Race, bigotry, class, slavery, miscegenation, women as property …. these are a handful of the issues that the film Belle grapples with while disguised as what some are calling ‘a costume drama’.

The film opens in 1769 as John Lindsay, an officer in the British Royal Navy, arrives at an unnamed site to claim his daughter. Her mother, a former West Indian slave, and Lindsay’s lover, has recently died.

Lindsay’s intention is to convince his uncle, Lord Mansfield, who also happens to be the Chief Justice of Britain’s highest court, to care for his daughter while he, Lindsay, is away at sea.

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The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

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Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.

Review by Dennis Morton:

Usually, the first thing that comes to mind when I see or hear the word Galapagos is Charles Darwin. But The Galapagos Affair, a very clever and imaginative documentary
put together by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller may change that.

The film opens with these words:
“As I think back on it all, I see the way in which life can make a poor end of fine and admirable beginnings. Five years ago we came to make an Eden on these shores, and had things gone as we hoped I truly believe we’d have remained here happily – dying peacefully in old age.”

These words were written by Dore Strauch. Cate Blanchett, the great Australian actress, lends her voice to Dore’s writing. Not just Dore’s words, but Blanchett’s recitation have already let us know that we’re in for more than a run-of-the-mill documentary.

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