A Man Most Wanted – 8

A totally engrossing spy thriller from John LeCarre’s novel put us right back in the world of Homeland, The Honorable Wpoman and Chinatown, all of which we watched on home TV last week. Washed-out cinematography put us in the grey underworld of Hamburg, and Philip Seymour Hoffman dominated the screen like a beached whale. The acting was perfect and all the women beautiful, and the story held together better than everything else we’ve tried to puzzle together recently. But what resonated most was the unhappy ending, in which the greater powers frustrated Hoffman’s work and planning, leaving us with an empty screen and the inevitable thought: “Forget it, Jake – it’s Chinatown.”

Begin Again – 7

There are worse ways to spend a Thursday afternoon than watching Keira Knightley morph from nice-looking to irresistible – it’s in the eyes (not the teeth) – and listening to decent music – more like Once than Kinky Boots – although I can’t say the same for the Mark Ruffalo character. The story itself ranged from cliche to fantasy – the way Ruffalo was able to drive and park his car, you’d think he lived in Zanesville, Ohio, not New York City – but, like the music, there was nothing horribly offensive. I do acknowledge the originality of the closing credits, which were not only the briefest I’ve seen in years but also unspooled while the film’s main plotline was still running.

Get On Up – 5

A mess of a movie, somewhat salvaged by an extraordinary performance by Chadwick Boseman. A bunch of disconnected scenes add up, dramatically, to nothing. The scenes of James Brown’s youth, weakly reminiscent of the much better Ray, explain little, although one is rather surprised that as a youth he had no rhythm and couldn’t carry a tune. You want to root for the hero, but it’s hard when, as in Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic, he has so many troubling personal characteristics. And then there is the Dan Aykroyd problem: trained on SNL he can create a character but he can’t act. In short, nothing in the film is terribly satisfying, including the flashback editing, designed to hide the dramatic deficiencies, except for Boseman’s electrifying impersonation of Mr. Dynamite, the hardest-working man in show business (also not evident). He was stellar in 42 and Oscar-nomination-worthy here, for his acting, his dancing, and even his hairstyles.