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The Best of Hoffman, 2020

Christ, what a mess.

That’s the general sense of this year. The pandemic! The president! The pretzels I keep stuffing in my mouth! Shakespeare has an expression — I think it comes from Henry V — and it goes like this: oy vey iz mir.

Anyway, with the world in disarray I stayed grounded by shoveling #content coal into the furnace. I filed more stories this year than I ever have in my life. A lot of them were quickies (there were a few strange months where I was actually covering breaking news — like real news — and writing up Governor Cuomo’s press conferences) but I also got to do some nifty interviews, deep-dives into unusual waters, and even some old fashioned reviews.

Here’s some of the stuff I am proud of. I won’t overdo it.

I spoke to a lot of cool people this year, some of whom I have admired for years. For Vanity Fair, I spoke with Randy Newman, Branford Marsalis, the documentarian Matt Wolf (whose work I really love), Kelly Reichardt, the producer from the terrific show The Eddy that too few people watched, and Alex Winter about Frank Zappa.

At Times of Israel I spoke with Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker about Hitler, my friend Liel Leibovitz about Stan Lee, and one of the greatest directors working today, Rebecca Zlotowski, about her lush and wonderful film An Easy Girl. My interview with Zlotowski was the last bit of professional business I did outside my apartment this year. Indeed, returning from our chat in a tiny room deep within Lincoln Center was the last time I took the subway. Weird. Oh, wait, for weird, nothing tops this: also for Times of Israel, somehow I ended up interviewing Bernard Henri-Lévy. Not my usual beat, but he was extremely nice!

For Polygon, I spoke to the creator of Star Trek: Lower Decks, Mike McMahan, and at Vulture I spent way way way waaaaaaay too long ranking every one of Billy Crystal’s Oscar parody numbers. (This is an example of, if I were to look at the amount of effort that went into it against the money I received, I would have been far better served working at Burger King. This is the business we’ve chosen.)

Jordan H. with Rebecca Z., some years ago.

At Vanity Fair I frequently find myself dashing off hastily written obituaries. I did a lot of them this year. However many you think I did, double it. There are are few where I feel I did right by the person, including Toots Hibbert, Little Richard, and Neil Peart. One I wrote for Ennio Morricone was filed in advance, and it shows.

Other stories I am proud of this year include this 90th birthday tribute to Sonny Rollins, a look at the weirder side of Bob Dylan, a fairly deep-dive into the mostly forgotten film The Strawberry Statement, something resembling a review of the Russian movie/social experiment DAU, and a look at the number one picture during the 1918 pandemic, a silent comedy called Mickey. All of these unusual stories (and more) were published at the great MEL Magazine, an outlet that gave me a “go for it!” when I asked if they wanted a review of Sátántángo when a new print hit streaming. God bless MEL Magazine!

At The Guardian I weirdly ended up writing two pieces about The Grateful Dead. The first is something of a primer for noobs, and the second is me kvelling about their oft-overlooked self-produced documentary, The Grateful Dead Movie. I also detailed my first ever viewing of Forrest Gump and expressed my love for the blatant Star Wars ripoff Starcrash. And then, in answer to “what was your favorite movie at age 14?” I answered honestly, with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

At Thrillist I reported on just what in the hell is going on at New York City’s arthouses during this pandemic year, and at Vulture I spent way way way too long writing about every one of Billy Crystal’s Oscar parody songs.

At TV Guide and elsewhere I wrote a lot of reviews in 2020 about junk people have already forgotten. (Where are the Project Power fans? Nowhere. The answer is nowhere.) But there were a few where I feel like I really nailed it, so here are links to my reviews for The Plot Against America, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Hubie Halloween, Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix special, and especially The Trial of the Chicago 7. (I really went to town on that movie, with a fairly in-depth “what happened next?” story, as well as a “wait, did it actually happen like this?” one.)

Lastly, and most true to my heart, I wrote a short news item about my hero Trey Anastasio, and the groundbreaking work he did with The Beacon Jams. If you don’t know what I am talking about, well, this link is exactly what you need to click.

I’ve got one exciting thing up my sleeve for 2021 I can’t talk about yet, and then, well, who the hell knows? I’m always ready to try something new.

Bubble-headed Boobie!

I did a deep dive on the O.G. “Lost in Space” for the New York Times’ Watching site.
If you ever wanted to learn about this ridiculous television show, this is your opportunity.
Please read and enjoy.

Hoffman on the Last Jedi

The biggest movie in the galaxy is here.
I reviewed it for Times of Israel, then I went on a deep dive of nerdery for the Guardian. Read both and enjoy.

Valerian & the 1000 Planets: Best Dumb Movie of 2017

Below is an extended version of my review from Popular Mechanics.
Though not a Pixar film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” comes with its own accompanying short film. Technically it is just the opening credits sequence, but not even “Watchmen”‘s brilliant, tuneful introduction is as perfect. It’s like a rare mineral flung out in space for eons, finally orbiting back to us with luminescence, and explaining just how mankind might possibly save itself from extinction, all set to a David Bowie song.
It also sets up the forthcoming movies’s setting, Alpha, a hodgepodge collection of ship parts from the farthest depths of space. It’s a station where every conceivable life-form is represented and looks as if Deep Space Nine were designed like a Scrabble board after a really thorough match. But before we get there, we have to meet two of the interplanetary security agents who spend their time zooming into danger while looking too fabulous for this or any other world.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is our young, kinda-doofy 007 and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is his wiser, put-upon, always gorgeous right-hand woman. Their attitudes are a little bit Millennial, but definitely with a sophisticated filter. The vision comes from French director/producer Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”, “Lucy”) by way of 43 years of French comics from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières.
At times, the dialogue does feel like it’s translated from another language, but the repartee (and, alas, the acting) is not really the selling point. What “Valerian” has in more abundance than any other movie this summer is a visual exuberance that design-friendly sci fi fans will cherish for years to come. If this movie has no other legacy, know that the goal posts for convention cosplay have drastically changed.

Apart from the ships, weapons and groovy graphic interfaces, most of Besson’s attention is heaped upon Delevingne, who comports herself well as a modern, stylized spacewoman. She is more than a pin-up, but still the focus of everyone’s gaze. Her reactions shots range from typical action-adventure athleticism to screwball comedy, oftentimes just a fraction of a second apart. There’s a bit, for example, where she’s gotta put a giant jellyfish on her so she can have some sort of mind-meld experience, and it looks ridiculous, but she somehow sells the fun and the danger and still look dazzling. This is not easy. This woman is a star.
Visual cues come from everywhere in Besson’s world: early “Star Trek” (one ship really looks like Balok’s Fesarius) to the cover of Journey’s “Frontiers” album. A tourist in the absurd pan-dimensional “Big Market” is surely an homage to octogenarian French film director Agnès Varda; another woman is the spitting image of Jessica Rabbit.
Luckily, the story that breezes us through this outstanding optic panoply has just enough of the goods to keep us interested. Just enough, nothing more. Turns out there’s a conspiracy within the crypto-military government at Alpha, and only Valerian and Laureline can stop it. And it has something to do with a cuddly little creature that excretes iridescent pearls for some reason.
The movie, though, is called “Valerian”, and it’s time to address the spacelephant in the room. Dane DeHaan is no star-hopping rogue.
What makes “good acting” is a question no one can answer. And Dane DeHaan has been terrific in the past. (Go see his performance as Lucien Freud in “Kill Your Darlings”.) But he’s a collapsed neutron star of fun in this thing. There were times where I tried to rationalize it that he was going for an early Keanu Reeves-style knucklehead, but it just didn’t come together. I feel like any other handsome young man could have done this role, and maybe even brought more out of Delevigne.
There’s another big name in the cast, or at least the marketing: Rihanna. Crew-members in the Rihanna Navy should prepare themselves: she’s in this for maybe ten minutes. And most of that is just her voice. (She plays a shapeshifter in a nightclub, as if Odo were a stripper.) When she’s up there doing her thing (mostly changing in and out of fabulous clothes) it’s terrific. Just manage those expectations.
These faults, however, are negligible. Moreover, “Valerian” screams for a rewatch, because it wisely doesn’t over-explain itself. New technology isn’t discussed, it is shown. (Oh, Valerian can just, like, bash through walls? Fantastic!) The film follows wherever Besson’s imagination wants to go, and we are lucky to join the ride.

The Sons of Aperaham

It isn’t Jewish subtext on the screen in “War For The Planet Of The Apes.” It’s just text.
Read my piece about Semitic simians at Times of Israel.

Bar Bahar (In Between)

A substantial motion picture is coming to these shores in November, Maysaloun Hammond’s “In Between.” I saw a sneak peek at the Museum of the Moving Image. You can read about it at Times of Israel.

Journey Through French Cinema

I reviewed Bertrand Tavernier’s 3+ hr journey through French cinema called “My Journey Through French Cinema.”
It’s niche stuff, but you might the kind of person who is interested. If so, click this link.

Hoffman on Wonder Woman: The Lasso of Truth

Wonder Woman is and will remain the pop culture sensation of 2017. Unless BB-8 gets married and has kids or something in The Last Jedi.
I explain just what it is that sets Patty Jenkins’ superhero sensation apart in a piece for Thrillst.
Additionally, I did not ignore just what Gal Gadot’s new stardom means for people of the Hebraic faith, and you can read about that in the Times of Israel.

Cannes Film Festival, 2017

I was at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and saw a lot of great movies. In fact, I saw 35 movies. (There were 90 or so that showed.) Of that 35 I picked my top 20, and you can read that article over at Thrillist.
Also at Thrillist, I drilled a little deeper on two movies I really enjoyed: Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time.
At Vanity Fair I reviewed three films. Two were good. They are Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and Michel Hazanavicius’ Le Redoubtable. The not-so-good one was Based on a True Story by Roman Polanski.

Over at The Guardian lies the review for my favorite movie of the Fest, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Also, the fabulous new one from Agnès Varda (and JR) called Faces Places.
I also dug Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal and Eugene Jarecki’s Promised Land. I was less enthusiastic about a South Korean crime movie the title of which I can barely remember. (The Merciless.)
Finally, I did as I always do: answered the question “Was this year’s festival Good for the Jews?” at Times of Israel.

A Chat with Terry Zwigoff

It took a little arm-twisting, but I was able to interview Terry Zwigoff for Vanity Fair. This is a director I’ve been somewhat obsessed with for nearly two decades, perhaps because he doesn’t work all that often. Mr. Zwigoff is as he seems: a brilliant but not very laid back individual. Check out the article.

The Memory of Justice

Marcel Ophuls’ “The Memory of Justice” is currently streaming on HBO Go. (I’m told it will be there indefinitely.)
It’s unlike anything you’ve seen.
I was lucky enough to see it projected, but even at home on your couch it ought it pack a punch.
I attempted to get my head around this movie in a piece for Times of Israel. Quite frankly, I don’t think I nailed it. Or, at the least, it’s tip of the iceberg stuff. Even though I worked on it longer than I’ve worked on anything in months. (I’m really not supposed to admit to any of this stuff, but there it is.)
Anyway, click over and see what it’s all about.

Why post-credits scenes are slowly ruining blockbusters

“Despite the large soda you slurped down during the blockbuster (Hollywood spectacle forms an adhesive bond with the mind while marinating in sugar water, dontchaknow) you must hold it for a few more moments once the movie has ended. Because it hasn’t ended. Years ago, only borderline-savant cinema-goers and the parents of fourth-listed visual effects computer jockeys would stay through to watch all the credits. Now it is a prerequisite.”
Read the rest of my drunken man’s screed at The Guardian.



Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.