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Million Dollar Movie


In the Times, John Le Carre remembers Phillip Seymour Hoffman:

There’s probably nobody more redundant in the film world than a writer of origin hanging around the set of his movie, as I’ve learned to my cost. Alec Guinness actually did me the favor of having me shown off the set of the BBC’s TV adaptation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” All I was wanting to do was radiate my admiration, but Alec said my glare was too intense.

Come to think of it, Philip did the same favor for a woman friend of ours one afternoon on the shoot of “A Most Wanted Man” in Hamburg that winter of 2012. She was standing in a group 30-odd yards away from him, just watching and getting cold like everybody else. But something about her bothered him, and he had her removed. It was a little eerie, a little psychic, but he was bang on target because the woman in the case is a novelist, too, and she can do intensity with the best of us. Philip didn’t know that. He just sniffed it.

In retrospect, nothing of that kind surprised me about Philip, because his intuition was luminous from the instant you met him. So was his intelligence. A lot of actors act intelligent, but Philip was the real thing: a shining, artistic polymath with an intelligence that came at you like a pair of headlights and enveloped you from the moment he grabbed your hand, put a huge arm round your neck and shoved a cheek against yours; or if the mood took him, hugged you to him like a big, pudgy schoolboy, then stood and beamed at you while he took stock of the effect.

Philip took vivid stock of everything, all the time. It was painful and exhausting work, and probably in the end his undoing. The world was too bright for him to handle. He had to screw up his eyes or be dazzled to death. Like Chatterton, he went seven times round the moon to your one, and every time he set off, you were never sure he’d come back, which is what I believe somebody said about the German poet Hölderlin: Whenever he left the room, you were afraid you’d seen the last of him. And if that sounds like wisdom after the event, it isn’t. Philip was burning himself out before your eyes. Nobody could live at his pace and stay the course, and in bursts of startling intimacy he needed you to know it.


New York Minute

Manhattan_Bridge_At_Night 001

It’s less than 24 hours since police found Phillip Seymour Hoffman dead in his apartment. The description of how he was found is graphic and since we know him so well from the movies it’s easy to picture it all in painful detail.

It’s a blue Monday in New York.

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Smith]

Million Dollar Movie

A few brief highlights from the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman:

[Photo Credit: Desmond Muckian]

Author! Author!

Here’s a must-read. John Lahr on the new production of “Death of a Salesman”: 

Cast to a T, and beautiful in all its scenic dimensions (with Jo Mielziner’s original, 1949 set design), this staging of “Death of a Salesman” is the best I expect to see in my lifetime.

And Ben Brantley writing in the New York Times:

…The tears that brimmed in my eyes in those initial wordless moments receded almost as soon as the first dialogue was spoken. And at the production’s end I found myself identifying, in a way I never had before, with the woman kneeling by a grave who says, “Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry.”

Mr. Nichols has created an immaculate monument to a great American play. It is scrupulous in its attention to all the surface details that define time, place and mood. (Ann Roth’s costumes and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting feel utterly of a piece with Mielziner and North’s original contributions.) And as staged and paced it is perhaps the most lucid “Salesman” I’ve ever seen.

…That Mr. Hoffman is one of the finest actors of his generation is beyond dispute. His screen portraits, whether in starring roles (like his Oscar-winning turn in “Capote”) or supporting ones (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Boogie Nights”), are among the most memorable of recent decades. Though he was brilliant in the 2000 revival of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” his stage work has been more variable.

Certainly his performance here is more fully sustained than those in “The Seagull” (for Mr. Nichols) and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” But as a complete flesh-and-blood being, this Willy seems to emerge only fitfully. His voice pitched sonorous and low, his face a moonlike mask of unhappiness, he registers in the opening scenes as an abstract (as well as abstracted) Willy, a ghost who roams through his own life. (And yes, at 44, Mr. Hoffman never seems a credible 62.)

Mind you, there are instances of piercing emotional conviction throughout, moments you want to file and rerun in memory. Mr. Hoffman does terminal uncertainty better than practically anyone, and he’s terrific in showing the doubt that crumples Willy just when he’s trying to sell his own brand of all-American optimism. (His memory scenes with his self-made brother, played by John Glover, are superb.) What he doesn’t give us is the illusion of the younger Willy’s certainty, of the belief in false gods.

Million Dollar Movie

This scene never fails to crack me up. Ham on rye, extra mustard.

Gobs of Gravitas (with a Side Order of Angst)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman does Willy Loman. Oh, baby.

Hoffman is a fun actor and is at his best in a meaty role. Doesn’t get much chewier than Willy Loman, does it?

One for the Money

Jon Weisman on Moneyball:

There’s a level of sincere humility to the film version of “Moneyball” that might shock those expecting to see it cloaked in arrogance.

Next to the question about whether the material in Michael Lewis’ book was viable for a movie in the first place, the most common shot I’ve seen taken at the idea of the film, which I saw a screening of Monday, is “what’s the point?” Because Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s have never reached the World Series, much less won it, why would they worthy of the big screen?

Putting aside the fact that this criteria would eliminate about a thousand works of art – “Rocky,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Major League,” the entire history of “Peanuts” – note this well: The Billy Beane of “Moneyball” would share the same question. No one is more acutely aware of the A’s shortcomings than he.

But “Moneyball” does have a story to tell, a worthwhile and engrossing one. It is not a sermon. “Moneyball” is about faith in a calculated belief, and all the torment that comes when that faith is tested, and the unexpected kind of reward you can get for taking that test, no matter how it comes out. It’s a movie about a pursuit, not a coronation. It’s anything but a coronation.

It’s my belief that, while no movie is universally beloved, this approach opens the door for “Moneyball” to be accepted and enjoyed by those who took the book as a mockery of the game they love, by those who were entertained and embrace what was articulated in Lewis’ book, and by those who have no vested interest in the debate, or even the sport. It’s such a human movie – with Brad Pitt’s Beane a nuanced, multidimensional character, one with many faces – that it’s not easily dismissed.

Hell, I just want to see it for Phillip Seymour Hoffman chewing it up as Art Howe.

Million Dollar Movie

Guest Post By William D. Jackson

Last Friday, I checked into my Facebook account and saw a post from a friend referring to Sidney Lumet, the renowned director of such movies as “12 Angry Men,” “Serpico,” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” I instantly knew he was being memorialized.

I was caught by surprise, actually; the same way I was surprised when Sidney Pollack died. They were both full of energy, even if they appeared worn around the edges. Mr. Lumet certainly appeared to have walked a long way to the stage he was currently sitting on when I attended the TriBeCa Film Fest preview of “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” in 2007. I was with a friend who’s a big Phillip Seymour Hoffman fan; he was there with Lumet and Ethan Hawke. My friend begged me to stand up and ask a question during the Q&A afterward, so I stood up and got noticed.

“I just wanted to say two things,” I said. “Mr. Hoffman, my friend here is a big fan of yours and wants to say hi” to which he and the audience laughed as she squirmed in her seat. “The other thing is, being that you shot most of this on location around the city, I wonder if you have any war stories to share concerning that experience.”

Hoffman talked about how while they were filming one scene inside a car with Marisa Tomei, they had to pipe in air because it was so hot inside, that after literally having a fan or an ac in the back seat out of frame that had broken down early on. Sidney spoke about how much give and take there is when you’re on location, but for the most part he loved it. His favorite shooting days were in Astoria, Queens. I sensed a reflective look from both of them, and Hoffman looked at me the whole time as if to say, “Ahh, I know you’re in the biz!”


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