Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

First Hit:  I was barely able to watch, let alone like, the screen for its 137 minute running time.

I thought that Part 1 was one of the worst of this series until I watched this final film of the 4 part series. I enjoyed the original film, the second, “Catching Fire”, was too long and wasn’t up to the first film’s stature.

Part 1 (#3 in the series) was one very long uneventful setup for Part 2 (#4). This series started on a high note and fell into the gutter. For instance, what was the fighting scene in the sewers about? It had no value except to get some people killed and make Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) feel more pain to spur her on.

The ending was obvious and exposed way too soon. There was no surprise (reminded me of the line from a Who song: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss). The acting in most cases seem stilted and without feeling, like the actors just wanted to get through it.

Watching a purposefully elongated story was absolute torture. It is hard for me to conceive of people with active and useful brain cells objectively watching this film and thinking it is good. There is nothing that I can say that is good about this film except I don’t ever have to watch another Hunger Games film again.

Lawrence was good at times but generally, it felt as though she wanted it to be as over with as I did. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta had one of the most difficult and awkward roles. As a plot ploy, he had to pretend to be both in love with and be a hurtful enemy of Katniss. It’s difficult to pretend to be brainwashed and Hutcherson didn’t pull it off. Liam Hemsworth as Gale was a poorly executed character. His role of hero martyr felt stilted and without soul. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch tried to bring adult thinking to the role – he failed because the film failed to make it important. Donald Sutherland as President Snow, did his job and it felt like it. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Pluarch was painful to watch because it’s a lousy role, his performance poor, and it is the last time we’ll see him in a new film – sad. Julianne Moore as the new President Alma Coin was so below her recent performances that I cringed. Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s script was lazy, without interesting dialogue, and bloated. Francis Lawrence’s direction provided little interest and absolutely no excitement.

Overall:  I wanted to leave the theater so bad that I felt like a runner waiting for the starting gun and when final credits began to role – like a flash I was gone.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

First Hit:  A long and mostly uninteresting run-up to Part 2.

This movie is a set-up, and like most set-up movies it is trying to lay enough interesting groundwork to make the audience want to come see Part 2. God help us if there is a Part 3 because I’m not sure I could sit through another sloggy long set-up film.

In this movie, we catch up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as she discovers that her home District 12 has been destroyed. Most everyone has been killed. She is staying with District 13 and their President, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), wants Katniss to become the symbol for her goal to overthrow the Capitol which is still being led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

What is holding Katniss back is Peeta, her love, (played by Josh Hutcherson) who is being held by President Snow. She's afraid that Peeta will be killed. Most of the film is about getting Katniss to become a convincing propagandist. In other words, it is an action film without action. Katniss does this fairly well although, I couldn’t help but wonder why she had to have a role that made her act reluctant - and that it appeared that she did this reluctantly.

We have many of the previous actors back from the earlier films: Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) as a young man who cares deeply for Katniss. Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) a previous and crazy Hunger Games winner. It is also, and probably, the next to last unseen film footage of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee.

Lawrence is OK as Katniss; an uninspired person trying to become inspired. Something about the brooding look made me wonder if she really like doing this particular film. Moore was OK but I kept wondering if she will turn out to be as bad as President Snow when she becomes empowered ("hail the new boss, same as the old boss"). Sutherland is OK. I didn’t think he was a good choice for the other films and I hold with this thought. Maybe just not regal and scary enough. Hutcherson is in a minor role here but is set up for a larger role in Part 2.   Hemsworth was worthy in his role as probably the best on the screen here. Harrelson is also one of the better actors in this film. Hoffman is OK, but I cannot look at him without thinking of his recent demise. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket steals scenes with her persona. Peter Craig and Danny Strong wrote this lead-in script which at best was mediocre. Francis Lawrence directed this film and we hope the lead in works to something better to come.

Overall:  It was entertaining enough, but certainly it lacked some real grit and content.

A Most Wanted Man

First Hit: Better than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but the pall of Hoffman’s death kept creeping into my thoughts while watching.

Upon seeing Hoffman, I found myself looking for the signs of his real life struggle. His overweight, chain smoking and heavy drinking character Gunther Bachmann was one having a difficult life as well.

As an unsupported German government terrorist finder, he’s got a small team of people who work to befriend, interrogate (nicely) and influence people to assist him to find the people who fund Islamic terrorist activities around the world. His team does it methodically and not reactively.

However, the CIA and the German government only gives him a short leash and their ever-present pushing create a more difficult environment him and his team to work in.

The film takes place in Hamburg (one of my favorite German cities) with its water, canals, and mixture of old and new architecture. The pacing of this film is on the slow methodical side but it fits with the story. The film is dark in mood and I don’t think I saw one scene where the sun shines as well.

Hoffman embodies his character with an odd inconsistent accent. Girgoriy Dobrygin as Issa Karpov (as suspected terrorist) was very good. His sullen, eyes down view of the world was very powerful and believable. Mehdi Dehbi as Jamal was very good because he embodied the scared but determined informer he was. Nina Hoss as Irna Frey (Bachmann’s right hand person) was very good. Rachel McAdams as Annabel Richter (lawyer for Karpov) was really good. I liked the brightness she brought to the film. Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan (CIA head in Germany) was very strong. Willem Dafoe as Tommy Brue (Banker who manages his deceased father’s bank of ill-gotten money) is also very strong. Andrew Bovell wrote a clear screen play of this John le Carre novel. This was better than the muddied screen play for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy novel. Anton Corbijn directed this dark sullen film with a clear deft of hand.

Overall: This film was much better than I thought it would be but the pall of Hoffman’s recent death carried through my heart as I watched it.

The Master

First Hit:  Really great acting doesn’t lead to an interesting story or film.

Two extremely powerful performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix and one very strong performance by Amy Adams were presented but it didn’t tell much of a story.

This film seems to be conflicted between telling a story about Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). The film starts interestingly enough following Freddie as he leaves the Navy a confused and probably psychotic man. He drinks all the time and creates alcohol based liquid concoctions which Dodd tells him are amazing.

The first hour or so we travel with Freddie as he gets and loses jobs and women. His one respite from a damaged lifestyle is that he is smitten by Doris a very young girl from which he restrains himself. When he stows away on a boat Dodd is using to go to New York, through the canal, he is discovered and taken on as a pupil by Dodd.

“Processing” is the go word to the cultish religion Dodd is leading with his wife Peggy (Adams). When Dodd enters the film, the film fights with itself about what story to tell, the one about Quell finding his way through life or Dodd the founder of a Scientology like faith.

This battle, the great acting, or a cohesive story, has this film falling far short of what it could have been.

Phoenix is absolutely amazing beyond belief. His Quell is someone very difficult to understand or have empathy for, yet compelling to watch. One needs to have a seat belt on when watching the roller coaster Phoenix takes us on. Hoffman, on the other hand is stoic, grandstanding, and regal in a commanding performance as the head of this new found faith. He demands and gets the attention of everyone in the film and sitting in the audience. The moments where he breaks his regal stance, like when he barks at a follower (Laura Dern) who questions his change in path in the second book, is powerful at seeing his vulnerability. Adams is excellent as Dodd’s wife and fellow creator of this new faith. Dern is fantastic as a devoted follower. Paul Thomas Anderson wrote a script for great acting but not a very good story. But, as director, got amazing performances from his cast and the feel of the fifties, was extraordinary.

Overall:  This could have been a great film, but we are left with great performances.

The Ides of March

First Hit: A very good film which simply shows how a politician’s imperfection and ego leads to the illusion.

We all know that to become a politician one must have a strong ego and a somewhat thick skin.

To run for President of the United States, there are a lot of compromises one might have to make along the way. When they state they want to “serve the people”, there is also a serving of one’s ego. The people who serve these politicians do what they can to “position” their candidate in the best light possible.

We’ve seen in recent past politics, that handlers like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney serve in oddly powerful and conclusive ways.

Here, Steven Myers (played by Ryan Gosling) is the chief strategist working directly for Campaign Manager Paul Zara (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). They are both working on the campaign to elect Governor Mike Morris (played by George Clooney) for the office of President of the United States. In the other camp there is Tom Duffy (played by Paul Giamatti) who is Zara’s counterpart for the other candidate.

Duffy sees that Myers is good and is guiding Morris for a win. His job; find an opportunity to change the playing field. But Myers ends up having some political collateral of his own and he learns that politics is a nasty game and that some people talk a good game for the people, but in their own lives, things might be not as honorable.

The way this story is played out is clean, clear, uncluttered, and predictable in that I guessed the ending long before it happened. But even so, it was well done, clearly defined, and wonderfully acted. This was a tour-de-force of a number of strong actors doing a wonderful job. Although some advertisements call this film a thriller, it is not, it is a drama all the way.

Gosling is clearly present for this part. He is quick minded and his eyes reflect it. He is naïve and his eyes show it. He is strong and his eyes express it. Clooney is perfect as the smooth talking, handsome, eloquent candidate who hides his indiscretions under an uncompromising smile of slickness. The scene in the kitchen with Gosling when the deal is cut is superb and pointedly packaged. Hoffman is perfect as the guy who lives by his belief regardless of where it takes him. Giamatti is both creepy and elegant as the guy who will do what he needs to get his candidate elected. Evan Rachel Wood (as campaign intern Molly Sterns) is wonderfully captured as the smart beautiful girl who gets intoxicated by the powerful men in politics. Marisa Tomei (as news reporter Ida Horowicz) was good and especially with the turning of the tables (both times), one where she is on top and the other where she isn’t. Lastly Jeffrey Wright (as Senator Thompson) was really strong as the Senator who wanted to get the most out a selling his support by using a bidding process for the highest cabinet job possible. George Clooney and Grant Heslov wrote a very clear and strong script and Clooney did a wonderful job of directing this film.

Overall: This was a very strong Clooney effort and a wonderful film to watch.