Stars. Movies Reviewed: A Most Wanted Man, And So It Goes PLUS TIFF 14

Posted in CIA, comedy, Cultural Mining, Germany, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2014

TIFF14 Press Launch Piers Handling and Cameron BaileyHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

TIFF announced some of this year’s films to watch out for at a press conference this week. While many of them are blatant Oscar-bait, a few look promising. Lone Schiffrin directs The Riot Club, a story of Oxford toffs – upper-class university students with money, power and prestige – who try to get away with something really bad. Chinese director Zhang Yimou brings us Coming Home, about a relationship torn apart during the Cultural Revolution. German director Christian Petzold’s tries his hand at a post-holocaust, mysterious drama starring his leading lady Nina Hoss. And many more.

So, in deference to the upcoming red carpets, I’m looking at two movies filled with stars. One’s an American rom-com about retired baby boomers; the other’s a thriller set in Hamburg about spies and the War on Terror.

Most Wanted Man Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin courtesy EOne films canadaA Most Wanted Man
Dir: Anton Corbijn (based on the novel by John le Carré)

Hamburg is a huge European port city, where sailors explore shwarma stands and sex shops. It’s where the Beatles played in the early 60s. And it’s where Muhammad Atta, one of the presumed 9/11 conspirators, is said to have joined al-Qaeda. Now it’s a hotspot for American black-ops, surveillance and spies.

So when an unidentified bearded stowaway in a hoodie is spotted arriving by boat, intelligence goes on high alert. Who is he? What is he there for?

Turns out, his name is Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the son of a Chechen mother and a Russian military father. He is rescued by a kindly local family and a refugee lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams). He carries no ID except a priceless document – a letter from his dead father to a Hamburg bank. Annabel offers her help – she’ll show it to the bank’s CEO (Willem Defoe) to get Issa back on his feet.

But that could involve a large amount of money. The spies all panic. Is he a terrorist? A lone Most Wanted Man Phillip Seymour Hoffman  courtesy EOne films canadawolf? The intelligence crews swoop down, ready to bring him in. But Annabel manages – for now at least — to keep Issa safe from the team that tries to kidnap him.

Chief among the spies is Gunther (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles) a street-level agent who cultivates local informants. He talks like Winston Churchill nursing a hangover. He tells the American spies and German police not to bring Issa in. Gunther has bigger fish to fry. If they let him expand his mission he promises to bring down an international terrorist financial network. But is Issa really a terrorist? Where did that banker get the money? Can Gunther be trusted? And which spy organization is really pulling those strings?

A most wanted man is a fascinating spy flick. Like most le Carre novels, it has a complicated, and initially confusing plot, involving many players with conflicting motives. It’s this moral ambiguity – who are the bad guys, who are the good guys – that make it so realistic and satisfying. The movie is loaded with European actors: Germans Nina Hoss (star of Christian Petzold’s films) and Daniel Bruhl are almost wasted in their side roles. Russian Grigory Dobrygin is compelling as the presumed terrorist with the secret past. And Hoffman goes out with a bang – he will be missed.

A most Wanted Man is shot in a gritty urban style, filled with heavy industry, shipping containers, and abandoned warehouses.

I like the action and the thrilling plot. But even more I like the sense of unease the movie leaves you with, with its dark, depressing portrayal of excessive surveillance.

VVS_ASIG_poster.inddAnd So it Goes
Dir: Rob Reiner

Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is a retired real estate dealer who lives in a cute rustic home. He calls it his Little Shangri La, but for his tenants who share the building, it’s no paradise. He’s a cranky old man who seems to take pleasure in terrorizing small children, shooting stray dogs with paint guns and stealing parking spaces from pregnant women. He’s a nasty old coot. Apparently he used to be an all-right guy… until his wife died. Now he’s nobody’s friend.

He’s trying to sell his family mansion for eight million dollars – not six! – so he can move away, but keeps alienating potential buyers with snarky attitude. And suddenly someone appears to upset his apple cart. It’s his estranged, middle aged son. Dad hasn’t seen him since the boy was a junky. Now he’s a middle aged man about to serve time in prison for some unknown crime. And the son has a cute, 10-year-old daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerrins) that he wants his Dad to take care of.

Selfish Oren wants nothing to do with the kid. He dumps her on his neighbour Leah (Diane ASIG_03862.NEFKeaton) in the adjoining apartment. Leah is an underemployed lounge singer. She is as nice as Oren is mean – and she needs the money – so she agrees. Then thing start to change: despite their initial rocky start, Oren and Leah find they have something in common – could it be love? And will the adorable little granddaughter melt her cruel grandpa’s heart?

I wasn’t crazy about this movie. The father runs into trouble searching his son’s friends and the kid’s mother. They’re.. poor! (Which ASIG_02615.NEFmeans they’re all ugly, dirty, drug addicts.) Not like the nice, rich people he wants to talk to. It also tries for laughs with Oren’s racist remarks, but assumes the audience is familiar with his ethnic stereotypes. (I honestly didn’t get these “jokes”. Are Latinos in the US assumed to be gardeners?)

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton seem to be playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves: arrogant ass meets flibberty-gibbets. It’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s more just disappointing that the director who has chronicled American baby boomers for decades, should fall back to weak rom-coms rather than gems like Spinal Tap, Misery and Princess Bride.

A Most Wanted Man and And So It Goes open today. Check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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