‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’
As “Empire” sledgehammers into our brains every week it’s on, Lee Daniels is one of this era’s most deranged trash masters. This makes him perversely perfect for what could have been a stodgy, but quietly smart, Civil Rights saga. On one hand, Danny Strong’s script wisely sets up two seemingly conflicted positions: a heads-down approach taken by a longtime White House butler (Forest Whitaker) and the radical stance adopted by his son (David Oyelowo). It doesn’t pick a side, instead allowing the two extremes to speak to each other and slowly merge. On the other side, there’s a rarely more comfortable Cuba Gooding Jr. adlibbing dirty jokes, Oprah Winfrey dancing, long stares at Jane Fonda’s Nancy Reagan’s butt and Liev Schreiber spending most of his LBJ screentime on the can. It’s the stirring and tough “Selma”’s brattier but no less engaged and passionate cousin.
‘A Most Wanted Man’
The John Le Carre adaptation “A Most Wanted Man” inadvertently became one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last movies, and it’s not one where he’s screaming or cracking jokes. As the head of an anti-terrorism agency in Hamburg, he’s remote, tired, vaguely depressed. We don’t get inside his character, but that’s as it should be: though this thriller — tracking the pursuit of a Chechen refugee who may have been misidentified as a terrorist — can get too jumbled with plot, it absolutely nails a mood where everyone’s unknowable, and therefore capable of something heinous. This is Le Carre’s world, one where no one can be trusted, where even those of relative good can still do bad, and where the impenetrable plot mirrors the moral confusion that runs deep. If “A Most Wanted Man” isn’t always easy to follow, the rewards are worth it for the big payoff, though one that isn’t one you’d expect or find uplifting.
‘Point and Shoot’
Offering the latest true tale too tale for fiction, Marshall Curry’s doc tells of Matt Van Dyke, a Baltimorean adventurer who headed to Africa to shoot some wicked motorcycle footage and wound up in the front lines of the Libyan Revolution. Van Dyke remains an ambiguous figure — part Herzogian fool, part sincere revolutionary (who has since declared he was joining the fight against ISIS). But Curry’s film isn’t so simple, offering a secretly complex look at how we try to shape our lives based on what inspired us growing up — in Van Dyke’s case, and even in the case of his fellow freedom fighters, the “hard body” action gods of the ’80s.
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