The Films of Michael Hoffman
Restless Natives (June 4/07)
Lightweight to the point of distraction, Restless Natives follows a pair of Scottish friends (Vincent Fiell's Will and Joe Mullaney's Ronnie) as they become local heroes after embarking on a spree of tour-bus robberies. Ned Beatty co-stars as an inept CIA agent with a grudge, while Teri Lally plays the object of Will's affections. Director Michael Hoffman - working from Ninian Dunet's screenplay - has infused Restless Natives with a laid-back, easy-going sort of vibe that quickly wears out its welcome; there's little doubt that the film's success depends almost entirely on one's ability to accept the central characters' casual descent into crime (viewers unable to swallow this are in for a very long slog indeed). Much of the movie's 90-minute running time is devoted to needless instances of padding, with the most obvious and egregious example of this being an ongoing gag involving Beatty's contentious divorce. And although the whole thing initially coasts on its free-wheeling charm, there comes a point at which it becomes impossible to overlook the mounting contrivances, plot inconsistencies, and flat-out ridiculous elements (ie the guys eventually start accepting credit cards during their robberies). The performances are amiable enough and the cinematography is nice, but really, Restless Natives is ultimately far too slight an affair to warrant a hearty recommendation.
Some Girls (February 9/08)
Quirky to the point of distraction, Some Girls follows a smarmy college student (Patrick Dempsey's Michael) as he travels to Quebec to spend the holidays with on-again-off-again girlfriend Gabriella (Jennifer Connelly). Michael quickly finds himself confronted with Gabriella's unreasonably eccentric family, which includes - among others - a pair of slutty sisters (Sheila Kelley's Irenka and Ashley Greenfield's Simone), a father (Andre Gregory) with a penchant for nudity, and a bedridden grandmother (Lila Kedrova) who mistakes Michael for her dead husband. Screenwriter Rupert Walters' refusal to infuse Gabriella's brood with even a hint of authenticity quickly lends the movie a distinctly interminable vibe, as the viewer - faced with the prospect of spending more than a few minutes in the company of these ridiculously broad caricatures - is forced to find other ways to amuse themselves for the duration of the film's overlong running time. Dempsey's self-conscious, downright obnoxious performance certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the egregiously deliberate pace with which director Michael Hoffman has imbued the proceedings. Connelly's expectedly charismatic work notwithstanding, Some Girls primarily comes off as an exercise in irritation that possesses exceedingly little in the way of positive attributes.
One Fine Day
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Emperor's Club (November 19/02)
Though the promotional materials for The Emperor's Club seemed to indicate it'd be a feel-good flick about a caring teacher (along the lines of Mr. Holland's Opus), the film instead focuses on a caring teacher whose continuing efforts to reform a troubled student aren't exactly rewarded - as the narrative details Kevin Kline's exploits as history professor Mr. Hundert. As The Emperor's Club progresses, it becomes far less predictable than it originally seemed. The film clearly wants to avoid the feel-good trappings that have become par-for-the-course with movies like this, going so far as to confound expectations at key points along the way. For a long while, it seems as though the film is going to be another Dead Poets Society - with Mr. Hundert bonding with the kids by playing baseball with them and spouting aphorisms that sure sound good but make little sense. Those early sequences turn out to be the film's most enjoyable, with remarkably engrossing classroom scenes and dorm-room hijinks, due in part to Kline's performance. Though he admirably stretched himself with last year's Life as a House, The Emperor's Club allows Kline to play the sort of cocksure character he specializes in. Mr. Hundert is the kind of teacher all of us wish we would've had at some point in our past. There's no questioning the fact that he genuinely cares for his students, and indeed, he routinely puts them above his personal life (his only relationship outside the classroom is with a woman who's already married, played by Embeth Davidtz). But the film becomes something different around the halfway mark, when Mr. Hundert goes out on a limb for a young student named Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch). Certain that all he requires is an ego boost, Mr. Hundert fixes it so that Sedgewick narrowly edges out another student for a place in a pivotal knowledge contest. And, as Mr. Hundert soon finds out, Sedgewick has no intentions of winning the contest fairly - instead, he cheats (though he's unable to hide that fact from Mr Hundert), leading the teacher to the conclusion that he's failed Sedgewick. And once the film shifts to the present, and Mr. Hundert is invited to stage a rematch of the contest with the same participants (Sedgewick is now a successful businessman with an eye towards politics), Mr. Hundert hopes that Sedgewick has changed his cheating ways. The lesson that Mr. Hundert learns from this is a discouraging one: some students just can't be saved. It's certainly a pessimistic view which is all-the-more surprising given how conventional the first half of the film is. The Emperor's Club will certainly please those who thought Mr. Holland's Opus was too maudlin, though the film does end on a somewhat upbeat note. Still, Kline's lead performance and his chemistry with the various kids that make up his class make the film worth a look - even if the second half isn't nearly as effective as the first.
Out of the Blue
The Last Station
The Best of Me (October 24/14)
A rather typical Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best of Me follows high-school sweethearts Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) and Dawson (James Marsden) as they reunite after the death of a close friend (Gerald McRaney's Tuck) - with the movie also containing a number of flashbacks detailing the trajectory of Amanda (Liana Liberato) and Dawson's (Luke Bracey) ill-fated romance. The Best of Me generally unfolds in as predictable and familiar a manner as one might've anticipated, as filmmaker Michael Hoffman suffuses the proceedings with the various elements associated with movies of this ilk - including picturesque shots of North Carolina, a sweet yet idealized romance, and a plethora of obstacles standing in the central couple's way. The movie manages to sustain the viewer's interest from start to finish, however, due mostly to the efforts of an extremely capable cast, with Monaghan and Marsden delivering above average work that's heightened by their palpable chemistry together. (Bracey and Liberato are good, too, but the obvious age difference between the actors ensures that their scenes are more creepy than romantic.) It's ultimately clear that Hoffman, along with scripters Will Fetters and J. Mills Goodloe, tests one's patience with a pace that's almost unreasonably languid, with the protracted third act, which seems to pile on one complication after another, ensuring that The Best of Me peters out to a rather demonstrable degree - thus confirming the film's place as a competent yet somewhat underwhelming adaptation.