Cerebral Movies: A Most Wanted Man

MV5BODY2MTA0MjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE3NzE4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_A Most Wanted Man has the dubious distinction of being Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film. Fortunately, it is a well done film with fine performances.

Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann the head of a German security agency tasked with stopping domestic terrorism. When a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant (brutally tortured by the Russians) shows up illegally in Hamburg, looking to acquire funds left to him by his Russian father, Bachmann (and other security agencies) take notice. It becomes a race against time to figure out if he is a victim or a terrorist bent on revenge.

Bachmann wants to turn the immigrant into an asset, hoping that he will lead them to the real men in power.  But the other agencies, including the CIA, want to capture and punish him. It becomes a game of cat-and-mouse with each agency jockeying for dominance. Although all the agencies ostensibly want the same thing, they all have different methods for realizing their goals.

Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright and Willem Dafoe round out the cast as a sympathetic lawyer, a CIA analyst, and a German banker respectively.

A thought-provoking and cerebral film, based on a novel by John le Carré,  A Most Wanted Man illustrates post 9/11 spy craft and how various security agencies use different methods to achieve their goals. Often times, these agencies are at odds with each other how to achieve these goals.

The film is about 2 hours long, but it never feels overlong, or boring. The directer did an excellent job pacing the film to keep the viewer’s interest.

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A Most Wanted Man

Worth a look if you like cerebral films or realistic depictions of spies and espionage in the post-9/11 age.

Skip it if 007 is more your thing.

– steve




Holiday Movies: A Christmas Story

MV5BMTI1NzY1NjkyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjYxNjE0MQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_Originally released in 1983, A Christmas Story was largely ignored by theater-going audiences. It wasn’t until its release on VHS that it became a bona fide cult classic.

Based upon the novel by Jean Shepherd “In God We Trust, All Other Pay Cash,” A Christmas Story is Shepherd’s recollection of the Chrismas holiday circa early-1940s Indiana.

The movie chronicles Ralphie’s (Jean Shepherd) attempts to secure  a BB gun for Christmas, his idea of the ultimate Christmas gift. Of course all the adults respond with “you’ll put your eye out with it.”

As Ralphie contends with school, bullies, and adults who don’t understand his desire for a  BB gun, the film is a wonderful slice of life in depression-era America. Particularly funny is when Ralphie drops the f-bomb in front of his father. When Ralphie’s mother asks indignantly where he had heard it, adult Ralphie says:

Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.

But young Ralphie, in a moment of panic (unjustly) rats out a friend, who gets severely punished by his mother. And Ralphie gets his mouth washed out with a bar of soap for his troubles.

The movie is perfectly cast with Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, Darren McGavin as his father and Melinda Dillon as his mother.

Worth a look if you like warm, sentimental holiday movies.

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A Christmas Story

– Steve


Holiday Movies: Christmas Vacation

MV5BMTI1OTExNTU4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzIwMzQyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Another holiday favorite of mine, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation stars Chevy Chase again as hapless Clark Griswald. All he wants is to have a perfect holiday, but events conspire to ruin his Christmas. But in the end, Clark is the eternal optimist and is able to make the best of some very disheartening situations.

Chase displays brilliant comedic timing as the various disasters fall upon him: Cousin Eddie shows up, broke and driving a dilapidated motor home;  an over-done turkey; an ignited Christmas tree nearly burns his house down; waiting on a Christmas bonus which never materializes; and stringing up Christmas tree lights browns out the neighborhood.

Beverly D’Angelo plays Clark’s long suffering wife, Ellen. Johnny Galecki (of Big Bang Theory fame) and Juliette Lewis play his  son and daughter respectively. Randy Quaid is very funny as Cousin Eddie, in fact, stealing every scene he is in.

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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Worth a look if you want to see some poor, miserable sap having a worse holiday than you.

Skip it if slapstick comedies are not your thing.




Holiday Movies: Elf

MV5BNjY1NjQ3NDY5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODAyMTc3._V1_SX214_AL_Elf is one of my favorite holiday movies. It stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human infant who is inadvertently taken to the North Pole with Santa Claus and raised as an elf. It soon becomes apparent to Buddy that he is not an elf after a growth spurt makes him twice as tall as any of the elves. Buddy finds out from his elf father (played by Bob Newhart) that is real father is in New York.

Buddy leaves the North Pole  in search of his real father (played by James Caan), who turns out to be a heartless jerk with a neglected family. Can Buddy turn his real father around so that he is filled with holiday spirit? You’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen round out the cast as Buddy’s love interest and stepmother respectively. Ed Asner is well-cast as Santa Claus. Look for Amy Sedaris, Peter Dinklage, Jon Favreau and Andy Richter in minor supporting roles.

The movie is very funny in the slapstick vein and plays on Buddy’s elf upbringing. Not having been raised by humans, Buddy has a wide-eyed innocence and often responds inappropriately to situations he finds himself in.

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Worth a look if you like Will Ferrell and/or slapstick comedy.

Skip it if you are a blackhearted grinch or think Scrooge was just misunderstood.