REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man

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A Most Wanted Man
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Written by: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carré (novel)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright

Though this John le Carré adaptation switches between being a generic spy caper and a thrilling one, it was a great moviegoing experience for me simply because it was the last new movie I’ll ever see with Philip Seymour Hoffman in a leading role.  Yes, he’ll return as a supporting player in the final Hunger Games installment(s), and his debut in the last movie was filled with promise; but this is his last time at center stage, and I’m glad (but not surprised) that he knocks it out of the park.

A Most Wanted Man, directed by Anton Corbijn, is several steps behind the flashes of mastery in Tomas Alfredson’s take on le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and it even copies many of the visual elements used in that movie.  There are brightly colored rooms filled with drab spies speaking cryptically, and windowless, deglamorized operation hubs that felt lifted from the world of Alfredson’s film.  Though both movies benefit greatly from fantastic central performances, A Most Wanted Man’s winding, post-9/11 paranoia narrative doesn’t establish character nearly as well.

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REVIEW: To the Wonder

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To the Wonder
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick (screenplay)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem

To the Wonder is the quickest turn-around of the legendary auteur Terrence Malick’s career, coming out a little less than two years after 2011’s The Tree of Life.  For a director who famously took 20 years after 1978’s Days of Heaven to resurface, that is quite a 180.  This is also significant when examining this latest film because, though it contains moments as transcendent and beautiful as anything he’s ever done, those moments are trapped inside many less significant ones.  It doesn’t feel fully formed, and though it’s by no means lazy or even bad, several parts feel out of place and sloppy.

Malick’s camera, aided by the infinitely gifted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, washes over any landscape with lightness and grace, tilting, panning and maneuvering around endlessly twirling and writhing bodies.  He speaks a language of pure cinema, enhancing each gesture and glance with a swell of music and a matching camera movement, and then using his trademark narration to an almost entirely expressionistic effect.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Corey Stoll

Finally, the first movie of the summer that deserves the label “art.”  Woody Allen continues his stroll through Europe with this weird, touching, and hilarious trip through the streets of Paris.  Midnight in Paris was the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, mostly because it’s everything the French love: funny, beautiful, and set in France.

Allen’s career has been an almost definitive representation of the “on-again, off-again” method of filmmaking.  He cranks out movies like nobody’s business, and many of them are masterpieces.  Some of them, especially recently, have been almost universal flops.  He is at his best when he takes the usual characters- neurotic artist, muse, pretentious academic- and puts them in something that isn’t about them.

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REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Corey Stoll

Finally, the first movie of the summer that deserves the label “art.”  Woody Allen continues his stroll through Europe with this weird, touching, and hilarious trip through the streets of Paris.  Midnight in Paris was the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, mostly because it’s everything the French love: funny, beautiful, and set in France.

Allen’s career has been an almost definitive representation of the “on-again, off-again” method of filmmaking.  He cranks out movies like nobody’s business, and many of them are masterpieces.  Some of them, especially recently, have been almost universal flops.  He is at his best when he takes the usual characters- neurotic artist, muse, pretentious academic- and puts them in something that isn’t about them.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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