Wanted-Man-Review

Spy thriller author John le Carre writes complicated, twisted tales of suspense and covert ops. In the 60s he wrote about the Cold War – now it’s the Middle East. First let’s go over some of le Carre’s past film adaptations: most recently Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011), The Constant Gardener (2005), The Tailor of Panama (2001) and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965). All of these films have one thing in common: they are dry and very confusing, at least to me.

Now let’s look at A Most Wanted Man, also based on a le Carre book. This film is fast-paced and filled with intensity and action, but easy to follow. Is it le Carre’s novel writing that has gotten less muddled and involved? Well, maybe. Is it because we, as an audience, are more prepared for convoluted plots, with more and more spy action thrillers being made (The Bourne series, the recent Bond movies, etc.)? Could be, but I think it has more to do with how the book is adapted…how expert the screenwriter is at adapting the twists and turns on the screen.

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moneyball-march

The Ides of March and Moneyball are two relatively recent films in which Philip Seymour Hoffman did not star, but rather provided crucial, essential and, as always, very strong supporting performances.

The Ides of March is a film that George Clooney not only stars in but that he also co-wrote and directed. And, really, he’s not the star here. Like Hoffman, Clooney is just a supporting player here. At the heart of The Ides of March is the Ryan Gosling character, Stephen Meyers. Stephen is the crux of this story. He is the pivot which all of the other action and characters revolve around. Stephen is a deputy campaign manager for a presidential candidate (Clooney) who at first seems untouchable. But soon, skeletons appear peeking out of the closets. Stephen finds himself caught in the middle of a potential scandal that could bring down both the campaign and his own career. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the candidate’s senior campaign manager. His time on screen is limited, but as always with Hoffman, his performance is larger than life and full of passion and vigor.

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maxmary

I’m not that fascinated by contemporary animated films. I love what Aardman Animation does (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep), but aside from that, most animation of today leaves me yearning for the non-computerized animation of the past…where tedious work was done all by hand to bring to life a spectacular finished product. This is why when a colleague recommended an animated film for adults and older kids entitled Mary and Max, I was highly skeptical. And, boy was I surprised at what awaited me.

Mary and Max is done in the “Claymation” style of animation, meaning CLAY animation. Claymation has advanced since the days of watching Davey and Goliath in grammar school (if you are not familiar with D&G’s stop-motion style of Claymation, don’t worry – it was not worth remembering). This movie’s animation, in addition to the sweet, touching story, is most definitely worth remembering, and even savoring. Mary and Max are both endearing characters that will stay with you for a long time. I do tend to gravitate towards holding “sad sack” characters in higher esteem…Eeyore was always my favorite Pooh character, as well as the Looney Tunes’ Elmer Fudd, and the ever-pathetic Dopey, the silent dwarf. Mary and Max both fall into that category…each being sad, lonely and lost in their own unhappy worlds.

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pirate-radio

Right off the bat I will say it: NOT MY KIND OF MOVIE. But, oh well, Pirate Radio has a great cast so I thought I would give it a whirl. And, when it began, I almost said I told you so to myself. But, then the plot really kicked in and the characters all came to life right on the screen and boom, before I knew it, I was hooked.

Not by the music (most of which is pretty much the kind of music I like), not by the 60s culture, but by the characters. You REALLY get involved and attached to the characters…all of them. They all have their own quirks that really give each of them panache…and then all of them together give the movie a special touch that resonates with audiences…because they will all know characters like this. In a cast lead by Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (the token American), other British actors including Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Nick Frost and even Oscar-winner and icon Emma Thompson all lend their own spice to add color and vibe to the film that already rock with 1960s British pop.

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Right off the bat I will say it: NOT MY KIND OF MOVIE. But, oh well, it has a great cast so I though I would give it a whirl. And, when it began, I almost said “I told you so” to myself. But, then the plot really kicked in and the characters all came to life right on the screen…and boom, before I knew it, I was hooked. Not by the music (most of which is pretty much the kind of music I like), not by the 60s culture, but by the characters. You REALLY get involved and attached to the characters…all of them. They all have their own quirks that really give each of them panache…and then all of them together give the movie a special touch that resonates with audiences…because they will all know characters like this. In a cast lead by Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (the token American), other British actors including Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Nick Frost and even Oscar-winner and icon Emma Thompson all lend their own spice to add color and vibe to the film that already rock with 1960s British pop. The story is based in reality – in the 1960s, Britain had bans on rock radio stations. So, to get around the law, tons of “pirate” stations popped up all over, most on the waters surrounding the small island. Not that the politicians couldn’t find them, but the bureaucracy just had no grounds to shut these little stations down…until now. But, being a character-driven story, this film is less about WHAT happens and much more about WHO it happens to. Mostly told from the point-of-view of “Young” Carl, a young man who’s been sequestered off on this ship in the middle of the North Sea by his mother in order to learn a lesson, all of the characters become equally dear to us…we love some, we hate some, we empathize with some, with are jealous of some. Make sure you check out this little gem of a film that is part romance, part drama, part comedy, part historical, ALL FUN!

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Another Newman/Richard Russo collaboration stems, this time, from Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a dying Maine town and its sad, depressed townspeople. Set in a former mill town, once the mill closed, the people of Empire Falls had nothing to do but be unemployed and desperate. Ed Harris plays main character Miles Roby, who is one of the stronger citizens of Empire Falls, considering he runs the local Empire Grill. But, this life is far from idyllic. Filled, like the novel, with an array of fun, colorful characters, this mini-series is not from one of Russo’s best works, in my opinion, but it still is a strong story that lends itself flawlessly to the screen.

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a good thriller…with a good ending. Not a great ending (I wish one of the main characters’ story was not left unresolved) but still satisfying. And, maybe famed NYC director Sidney Lumet left that one character’s end unresolved because that’s how life is…sometimes left hanging. From the way it starts to the way Lumet structures the story (told from different POVs), this one is original. Basically, it’s a robbery-gone-awry story which we’ve all seen over and over again in films. But Lumet adds an extra twist here that keeps you guessing until the end. Not Lumet’s best movie…(can anyone say Twelve Angry Men???) but compared to some of the lame thrillers out there, this one is one of the best of late.

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