Before I met my wife, my longest relationship lasted a …
In Anton Corbijn’s foreign espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman lends his take on an unconventional looking German intelligence agent, one without the usual dashing attributes associated with cinematic spies. Although sprinkled with cerebral-minded intrigue and conducting its atmospheric tension in methodical fashion, A Most Wanted Man feels relentlessly sluggish in its execution to live up to its labored political-coated drama. This low-energy, plodding spy showcase has its isolated highlights in sleek suspense, but fails to drive home any genuine revelations about its touchy subject matter regarding counter-intelligence suspicion and terrorist paranoia. Despite solid and committed performances, it’s a slow burn of a thriller that simply lingers without fortifying any convincing punch.
John Wick is a beautiful ballet of death and destruction. It combines the brutal hand-to-hand combat of Jason Bourne with Ridley Scott’s visual sensibilities to create the perfect vehicle for Keanu Reeves. Here, Reeves struts his physicality and underrated comic timing to ratchet up the fun while he amasses a huge body count. It’s an ultra-slick, violence-worshipping extravaganza that will have you eating from the palm of its bloodstained hand.
The art and the artist are undoubtedly strange bedfellows, and while there is a vast ocean to explore in terms of this relationship, the tempestuousness rarely ever seems to get its time on screen. This is no different for Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini – a biopic about the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini – where several times the idea is talked about, even spoken about with the same kind of verve that one would use to discuss the lurid sexual details that are illustrated on-screen, but that push and pull is not actually articulated on-screen. Pasolini was certainly a complex man, a Jack-of-all-trades in the art world, and Ferrara does an excellent job talking about this – his role in politics, his poetry, his novels, and, of course, his films – but the director spends little time showing us that influence. The biopic of an artist, I believe, begs the question of that relationship and that influence. “It’s either I kill myself or I do it,” he says about making movies. Though the film is certainly honorific, it’s not completely explorative.
With the release of two films in 2014, Abel Ferrara has had one of the biggest years in his long and rich career. Welcome to New York, which premiered at the Cannes film festival, was a confrontational splash that divided audiences and critics alike. As the Toronto International Film Festival was underway, the film jumped back into the headlines too, as Ferrara began a media fight over the negotiation of an R-rated cut of the film, which he refused to endorse. This revelation came at a particularly apt moment, as Toronto presented Ferrara’s second film of the year, Pasolini. It seemed only appropriate that, while waging a public battle over censorship, Ferrara’s new film about a man rumoured to have died because of his art would be premiering.
Throughout the beginning of Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, it is hard to ignore that there are only a handful of upcoming performances left from Philip Seymour Hoffman in this world. The actor’s untimely death earlier this year left a hole in the world of cinema, one that will not be filled anytime soon. Hoffman was a character actor who managed to become an A-lister, without ever losing his chameleon-like ability to channel whatever or whomever he wanted.
More than perhaps any other director, the work of Ernst Lubitsch has been the most noticeable influence on Wes Anderson’s style. Though the great German-American writer-director, most prolific in the 1930s and 1940s, was never quite so aesthetically bold in the look of his sets, he too was preoccupied with meticulous staging for comedy within his chosen locales, be they the titular Shop Around the Corner or the Parisian hotel of Ninotchka; The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in a fictional European country, the Republic of Zubrowka, another Lubitsch trait from works like The Merry Widow and The Love Parade, though The Shop Around the Corner happens to be set in the city Anderson’s mountaintop lodging house takes its name from. He garnered the descriptor of ‘the Lubitsch touch’ thanks to the moving sincerity that always made itself evident within even his more broad comedic premises, and Anderson’s own best work is that in which a recognisable humanism always makes itself known and potent even within the stylised stiltedness through which most of his characters are written and performed.
In Odd Thomas, the titular clairvoyant character (Anton Yelchin) can see dead people and bodachs (spirit creatures that alert him to future deaths). Working with the local police, headed by a chief played by Willem Dafoe, Odd goes around stopping people before they do bad things, but one potential criminal, a guy he lovingly dubs Fungus Bob, causes him all sorts of problems.