As the end of Mad Men hurtles distressingly towards us, it’s good to know that some of my favourites are already settling in to their post-advertising careers. John Slattery, having directed some of the best episodes of this iconic series, is almost certain to find his future in directing. God’s Pocket, his first feature film, is a promising debut – it’s not perfect, but the deftness of touch with character that made his Mad Men episodes so watchable has translated well to Pete Dexter’s tale of people struggling to make ends meet against a backdrop of low-rent mobbery.
This is, of course, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films and his performance here is a heartbreaking reminder of what we’ve lost. He’s Mickey Scarpato, an outsider to God’s Pocket, a small, insular district of Philadelphia where outsiders are always just that. Married to Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), the hottest girl in town, he’s lost track of how to communicate with her and is scratching out a living from dodgy meat deals. When his unpleasant stepson Leon is killed, Mickey goes into freefall and, unable to share or even comprehend Jeannie’s grief, he’s emotionally then physically shut out as her sisters close ranks to keep him at a distance. In the way that only real losers can, he manages to fuck everything up quite spectacularly from this point.
Hoffman is a sombre, lumbering presence and it’s hard to see him and not feel emotional, his portrayal of Mickey seems too close to real life at times. Those beautiful eyes, often red-rimmed and full of sorrow, tell a story that goes way beyond the character he’s playing and it’s impossible not to read a lot more into his performance than we might have if things had been different. It works for Mickey, he’s a sad, lost man well past his prime. But those heartbreaking moments when he’s struggling to make sense of the crap the world keeps throwing at him make for tough viewing.
Where God’s Pocket disappoints is when the black comedy turns to slapstick (the Weekend with Bernie scenes in particular hit an entirely wrong note). But what lifts it are the performances: Slattery is clearly skilled at getting the best out of a cast and there are great performances here from John Turturro, Richard Jenkins and Eddie Marsan as well as from the endearing shamble of drunks in the bar. And although Christina Hendricks does well with what she’s given, I wanted Jeannie to have a bit more spunk. Yes she’s hemmed in by grief, but it feels as if the film is happening around her – I wanted to understand how she got here, what hopes and dreams she’d abandoned on the way – and not least how she ended up married to Mickey. And I kind of wanted her to find her balls, I know she’s got some big ones.
Having said that, I enjoyed God’s Pocket, the ensemble playing, the excellent soundtrack and the faultless production design make this worth catching – along with one of the last chances to see one of the greatest actors of our time.
I quite enjoyed this one – it’s a bit solemn and certainly takes itself very seriously but the performances are superb and the music’s lovely.
To be fair, if Philip Seymour Hoffman hadn’t been involved I probably wouldn’t have seen it, but he’s a generally reliable indicator of a watchable film, and given a wash, a smart suit and a haircut I still would. He plays second violin in a string quartet which has seen some success thanks to its charismatic and recently widowed cellist, Peter Mitchell, who Christopher Walken plays with considerable grace.
The quartet is shaken by Mitchell’s announcement that he has Parkinson’s and plans to leave them. There’s a suitable replacement musically, but emotionally it hits the remaining three hard and they spin off in different directions, fuelled by reflections on their own mortality. Mitchell alone seems stable, his desire for the quartet to continue overriding some of the despair he must be feeling. Things are shaken up, and when they settle again, the four are markedly altered in different ways.
This isn’t a film to change the world, but it has some nice touches and strong performances not least from Walken, who last made me cry in a film when I realised I was too far down the row to escape from Seven Psycopaths. It’s not going to change the world, but A Late Quartet will do nicely on a Sunday afternoon with a glass of good red wine.
Easily my most anticipated film of the year, The Master does not disappoint. Paul Thomas Anderson has created another masterpiece, incredibly beautiful to look at and with performances from his two leads that should be hard to beat come awards time (though the subject matter might well work against them).
Joaquin Phoenix, thankfully back from his bonkers years, is astounding here as Freddie Quell, an ex-US navy sailor damaged by war and by the hooch he brews up from paint thinner. We first meet him on a beach at the end of WWII, drunk and showing off to his fellow sailors, his scrawny frame twisted, his eyes full of loss. As we watch him curl up alone, arms around the anatomically correct sand sculpture of a woman he was dry humping for laughs a few moments ago, it’s clear there is much vulnerability underneath the bravado. He’s a little boy lost, damaged by the things he’s seen, driven over the edge by drink and a fear that he’s lost everything that meant something to him. It’s a heartbreaking scene and one of the few times you feel some sympathy for this broken, unlikable man.
Back in the US, and unable to hold down a job, Freddie takes a drunken stroll on the docks one night that leads him into the company of a charismatic cult leader, Lancaster Dodd – Philip Seymour Hoffman, as powerful and magnetic in this role as I’ve seen him for a long time. The two strike up what seems at first an unlikely friendship. Their relationship is central to the film, Dodd needs an acolyte and finds someone he can control in Quell, a man with the same craving to be needed and who is more than willing to submit to Dodd’s ‘processing’. Quell at last has the stability he needs and the father figure he’s never had. Crucially both men share a furious rage hidden not far under the surface – Phoenix gives Freddie startling physical characteristics to imply this, and the rage when it comes, is fierce and violent. Seymour Hoffman keeps Dodd’s rage hidden under a cloak of geniality – we only see the fury bubble up once or twice, but when we do it’s all the more startling. Their strange bromance is at the heart of the film, which follows Dodd’s championing of The Cause, his idealistic plan to solve all the world’s problems by regressing everyone into past lives. Yes, it does sound familiar.
You’ll need to let yourself wallow in The Master, it’s fair to say the storyline is meandering and it certainly won’t please everyone (Scientologists, for example, might not entirely take it to their hearts). It’s slow, and the ending rather oblique – there are scenes that don’t seem to add much, and the plot is almost non-existent. In other hands this wouldn’t work, but Anderson (potentially one of the greatest directors working today) creates a driving momentum between Quell and Dodd that fuels the film. Both lead performances are incredible (with another impressive turn from Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife – the real master?), and visually it’s utterly beautiful – wow, if you can see it in 70mm I would urge you to, the colours have a depth you will never get on digital film, the blue of the sea and the sparkling emerald of Phoenix’s eyes could not be more arresting. The colours, the soundtrack, the depth of emotions on display – it’s all quite hypnotic.
Anderson is one of the few directors working in mainstream Hollywood who has the balls to make the films he wants to make, and thank god he does. This is one I intend to see again – and one I think needs a second viewing to get the most out of it. Superb.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is usually a fairly good bet in a film, he chooses interesting roles which he plays brilliantly – and he’s directed very capably for stage too. A man without a shred of vanity, he’s one of my favourites so I was looking forward to this, but have to say I found it a bit of a wearying experience.
This is Hoffman’s first film as director and in the main, it is pretty much as you would expect – he gets strong performances from the cast, a lot of whom played their parts on stage, and it feels very much like a quality indie. This was of course a sucessful off Broadway play, and that’s where I think the problems stem from – it doesn’t have an awful lot going on and some of the scenes, like Jack learning to swim, go on a bit too long to stay interesting.
It’s not terrible, Hoffman shows some flair as a film director and the burgeoning romance is touchingly told – but for me it still felt a bit stagey and lacked the narrative bite to make it really watchable. On the plus side, as a first go, this is not bad at all, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.
Standing within touching distance of Mr Clooney is always a good way to start your evening – especially when his wrestler girlfriend is nowhere in sight. The film didn’t disappoint either – it’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s a smart, good looking political drama with glossy lead performances which might well see some action come award time.
Ryan Gosling, the current totty du jour, does a fine job in the CJ Cregg role of press secretary who finds himself embroiled in some Clinton-like shenanigans following an office shag. Clooney is suitably statesmanlike as the governor aiming for bigger things, and always good to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my absolute favourite actors. I think my only gripe is that maybe not surprisingly, the female roles are a bit weak – I’d like to have seen a bit more from Jennifer Ehle in particular. But maybe that’s more a comment on the way politicians treat women…
Overall, Clooney proves himself a director who knows how to make a very watchable drama (you’ll see the words classy and sleek applied to this a lot) and one which, despite a bit of a predictable storyline, kept my attention right through. And made me want to rewatch West Wing, frankly.