Philip Seymour Hoffman's brilliance lives on

Friday , July 25, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner movie critic

In the art houses this week, we get another reminder of why Philip Seymour Hoffman will be so desperately missed in future cinema and discover that funnyman Zach Braff has a pretty hefty serious side when it comes to family.

A MOST WANTED MAN *** (R) Language. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl and Willem Dafoe. Directed by Anton Corbijn (“The American,” “Control”); based on a John le Carre novel; filmed in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany. Premiered at 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Showing at the Gateway in Salt Lake City, the Jordan Commons in Sandy and the Century 16 in South Salt Lake. 122 minutes.

With a mixture of joy and pain, I sat down to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final performances before his untimely passing in February of this year.

He plays a disheveled, hard-drinking, always-smoking intelligence officer from Germany, Gunter Bachmann, who heads a small anti-terrorist team created to develop sources within the Islamic community in hopes of leading to the more important, big-fish suspects.

Unlike his Hamburg counterpart, Dieter Mohr, who is more interested in arrests than looking at the big picture, Gunter would prefer to let the line play out a bit to see if the small fish might lead to someone higher up.

He found his small fish in Issa Karpov, a tortured Chechen soldier who shows up in Hamburg to retrieve a small fortune left to him by his father. He wants to give most of it to the Islamic extremists, which gives Gunter an idea. If he can lure a certain Dr. Abdullah, a long-time person of interest, to accept the funds and funnel them to a dummy corporation aiding the extremists, they will have the evidence they need to reel in the big fish.

Suddenly, the Americans are interested in Gunter’s scheme, sending in CIA agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) to help keep the pressure off of Gunter, until he can realize his plan.

It’s some high-stakes cat-and-mouse, spy-versus-spy scenarios orchestrated by the one and only John le Carre. And who better to play the key man gently pulling all the strings than Philip Seymour Hoffman?

He’s extraordinary, as usual, and I can’t imagine a movie world without him in it. Sigh and sadness.

WISH I WAS HERE *** (R) Language and some sexual content. Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Mandy Patinkin and Josh Gad. Co-written and directed by Zach Braff (“Garden State”); filmed in Los Angeles. Braff used Kickstarter to raise $3 million to help finance the project. Premiered at 2014 Sundance Film Festival. 106 minutes.

Along the same lines as the “Veronica Mars” movie, Zach Braff enlisted the help of Kickstarter in hopes of raising $2 million to help finance this project. He raised $3 million in a month from more than 46,000 fans. No pressure now.

He and his brother Adam wrote this story of Aidan Bloom, a committed, but struggling actor who hasn’t made any real money since “that dandruff commercial,” as his kids, Grace and Tucker constantly remind him.

His long-suffering wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) has become the breadwinner in the meantime, much to the chagrin of Aidan’s devoutly Jewish father, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), who now lives with the family and makes snide remarks from the cheap seats.

Saul had been paying for his grandchildren’s private-school tuition, but with a return of cancer, he will now need that money for his medical expenses.

That leaves Aidan to home-school his kids, because he believes the public schools in Los Angeles can’t get it done — and thus begins a journey of discovery for both him and his offspring.

There’s also a quirky brother, Noah (Josh Gad), who lives in a trailer park near the ocean. He’s supposed to be a genius of some kind, but seems more content to blog and play video games.

Poor Aidan is trying to keep this family together, but feels guilty that he must rely on his wife to support them — and on top of that, he can’t get Noah and their father together in the same room to even have a conversation.

With Zach Braff at the helm, I thought this was going to be a bit funnier than it was, but once I got used to it and realized he was really trying to say something here, I cut him a lot more slack.

This is not as good as “Garden State,” but it’s pretty close.

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