Collide with Nicholas Hoult

DATELINE:  Overripe Vintage Villains

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Oh, no, not a noisy car chase movie with Nicholas Hoult? Heavens, spare us. On top of that, the Brit actor again plays an American boy with a surfer accent. Not bad.

He seems to have gone the route of James Franco—two inconsequential movies and one film of substance. Collide seems to be inconsequential, but not so fast.

We rolled our eyes when the first scene of Nick Hoult is his blue eyes in the rear-view mirror as he races down the highway, heading for a metaphoric crash as the voice-over notes how he did it all for love.

We prepared for movieland dismissal. However, something surprised us: suddenly there was Ben Kingsley in one of his patented creepy mobster roles, watching an old John Travolta movie and commenting on the bad acting. Oh?

He started calling Hoult by the movie star name of “Burt Reynolds.”  We were hooked, and then some when Kingsley’s archrival drug kingpin is none other than Shakespearean nasty villain Anthony Hopkins, playing the respectable son of a Nazi interrogator.

All the crime henchmen look like the bearded ladies at the circus. And, one of many chases was on.

It was ridiculous to say the least: Hoult’s girlfriend is on dialysis, but remains a party-girl for his love. Big crime will pay for a kidney transplant. Okay.

The chases and fights do leave Hoult breathless and agonized, which one seldom sees in heroes of this brand of movie. He clearly wanted to perform with the legends of Hopkins and Kingsley—and he manages to more than hold his own.

It’s all over the top, but we stayed around for the credits—never expecting that Hopkins and Kingsley would be billed as “Sir Anthony” and “Sir Ben” and then have stunt doubles listed.

Yeah, we liked this one.

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Blackway Retitled

DATELINE:  Lost Masterpiece

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When you change the title after release, you lose a movie sometimes.

In this case, the loss for viewers is palpable. Now using its original novel name, Blackway, this low budget, big-star cast is an allegory about evil set in British Columbia, Canada.

Blackway is the bad guy, and he is the epitome of bad. What better name for this pervasive force in the wilderness.

The cast alone will make you curious:  Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, and Hal Holbrook, makes for an aging, but brilliant tale of a quest against the ravages of ruthless evil.

You may wonder how such a trio as Stiles, Hopkins, and wonderful Alexander Ludwig, mismatched to fight bad guys, can stand up to Liotta’s ubiquitous town boss. He seems to be everywhere, having done dirt to many in the remote region.

He has power and ultimately engenders total fear among the residents.

No one will help the beleaguered Miss Stiles, except for Hopkins and his muscleman with slow wits. Each has a reason to go against Liotta’s reign of terror.

In one illuminating scene, Hopkins tells us that life forces us to face implacable enemies sometimes: whether it’s cancer, a car crash, or financial ruin. You must deal with it with bravery.

Director Daniel Alfredson has chosen his frightful woods in the world of nowhere quite well, and the adaptation of Castle Freeman’s book goes against the grain of the usual clichés.

So many viewers missed this film, when it deserves your full attention with performances, story, direction, and compelling message. How fortunate we were to stumble upon it by accident.

 

Solace Slips Through the Psychic Cracks

DATELINE:  Sensing Solution

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You may take some solace that brilliant movies often come as a surprise, unexpected gems of intelligence and deft acting. The paranormal thriller, Solace, with Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell may seem to be out of the slush pile of scripts.

The story features a psychic working for the FBI who hunts for a serial killer.

Don’t be fooled by the summary of the plot.

The film turns out to be a chess game with the Grim Reaper.

What can you say about a film that uses quotes from poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as a clue—and operatic lines as foreshadows?

Clairvoyance gives the director Afonso Poyart a chance to show his skills with quick edits and sharp images to display past and/or future as the case re  quires. Hopkins plays his character, Dr. Clancy, with low key stoicism, except in moments of revelation.

He is teamed with a psychologist, Agent Cowles, another FBI agent with disdain for the paranormal. Abbie Cornish as Cowles gives the story an equal opportunity dimension that works well.

There may be a bond between two psychics in this movie, but the real intriguing concept is an opportunity to open up metaphysical debate about mercy killing under the guise of a thriller.

Farrell enters the picture rather late in the plot, but his appearance provides a matchmate for Hopkins. Both had appeared together previously in the disastrous Alexander the Great. They saved the great stuff for this movie.

The picture has much more in common with The Sixth Sense than a crime melodrama, and it was offered to Bruce Willis (star of the other psychic movie) but he passed on this. No matter, the end product in Solace is striking and engrossing, using the occasional car chase and bloody scene to make its point.

Beginning with a dictionary definition of “solace” in the opening credits,  you will take great solace in discovering this movie.

Revamped and Rejuvenated Westworld Hits HBO

DATELINE: Move Over, Yul

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If you liked Jonathan Nolan’s computer savvy approach to Person of Interest, you will thoroughly enjoy his latest foray into the technology of the future.

Nolan has sunk his teeth into the old Yul Brynner sci-fi classic by Michael Crichton, Westworld.  As producer, director, and writer, he is bringing his unique talents to a new fascinating project. It is hypnotic, chilling, and fascinating.

Bringing in Anthony Hopkins as the dubious owner and creator of Westworld and Jeffrey Wright as his technical expert left-hand, you have the behind-the-scenes string-pullers for android marionettes and martinets.

In the realm of the theme park itself, playing a version of Yul is Ed Harris as the Man in Black. This time he is not an android, but worse—a genuinely disturbing real person with an ugly penchant for violence.

 

Programmed not to hurt humans, the androids seem to be breaking down—or have been given a virus to send them into danger mode.

The opening episode on HBO sets up the premise of a handsome production with gripping ideas and smart cast (James Marsden is a robot, folks).

 

As in his highly successful Person of Interest, Nolan manages to make his anti-heroic theme park both a paradigm of evil and an homage to fantasy.

 

Though this may send you running to see the old 1973 flick with Richard Benjamin as the bumbling victim of Brynner’s obsessive robot, this new version is far subtler and has the luxury of weeks of exposition to make its point.

 

This has cable series mega-hit written all over it, and Nolan has managed to avoid the anti-intellectual CBS moguls whose appreciation for brainless entertainment has condemned them to pabulum TV and canceling Person of Interest.

Thundering Hooves, Heaves, and Heavens

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Loki & Thor Together Again

Though we frequently groan at the prospect of another superhero movie, we actually wanted to see the Norse demigods again in their sequel. We should have rented The Avengers instead.

Thor: the Dark World reunites Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s parents, Frigga and Odin. But, mostly we wanted to savor Loki, his evil younger brother, played deliciously malevolent by Tom Hiddleston who impressed us a few years back as Kenneth Branagh’s sidekick on Wallender.

And, Hiddleston is the perfect foil for Chris Hemsworth’s stalwart Thor. Throw in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and you have a bonfire of the gods of acting. Adewale impressed us years ago on Oz, the HBO prison drama.

The film provides some silly reason for Thor to return to Earth to show off his pecs and abs. Now if he only had a hammer to hide under his tunic.

Audiences may also feel like they have already seen the tiresome special effects here, which have become de rigueur for action cartoons of this ilk: dark, overblown, and unoriginal.

This film saves itself only with interesting actors bringing more than expected to the shenanigans. Yet, we are tormented by a villain race that requires subtitles. They talk like outtakes from Star Trek’s Klingon scenes.

Once again scientists behave like unprofessional fools that need “gods” to come to their rescue.

The plot is ponderous and plodding. A few well-delivered lines are not enough to save the movie. A steady diet of films like this will bring on early Hobbit’s disease.

Fantasy has overwhelmed science fiction and neutered mythology. See Thor: the Dark World to wallow in the results.

 

 

Everyone’s Face Should Be RED 2

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Why did anyone want a sequel to the original comic adventure movie about retired CIA agents? We suppose it gave good salaries to its stars—Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovitch, and now in the sequel, to Tim Piggot-Smith, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, all along for the long in the tooth ride.

Maybe they just wanted to have fun. Well, if your cup of tea is mayhem, and what dizzy funsters those old assassins really can be, this is your movie.

We hate any movie that is like a cartoon. This one revels in it. The opening credits, and the montages between scenes, are actual morphing into cartoon versions of the action and stars. This is DC Comics writ big, but with geriatric superheroes.

We knew that our tolerance level would be pushed to the limit with this little doozy. Usually we do not review films that we know will win our enmity. Perhaps for a few seconds, we thought this little dismal comedy thriller would transcend the materials. Call us wrong.

Perhaps we thought the aging stars would be hilarious in off-the-wall mode. Nope.

How misguided we were to entertain the notion something good would come this way. This movie is putrid for its violence and cavalier dispatching of human life. We don’t find sociopathic killers among our favorite amusements. If that were the case, we’d be rooting for those laugh riot terrorists.

The film has excellent production values, easy to watch performances, and quick plotting. It’s not enough. Trust us when we say that lugubrious movies with ponderous arty plots, like You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet and Kill Your Darlings, may be excruciating in their pseudo-arty approach, but we will take an effort to say something important over an effort to use chaos as comic relief.

Big budget failures are the worst—because the money would have been better spent in a serious (or humorous) little film. Sure, the producers may have to pay for a vocal coach for Daniel Radcliffe, or security for Robert Pattinson, but if the movie has merit, we applaud the expense.

RED 2 should not inspire another RED. We’d rather have our stars go into genuine retirement than reprise these roles ever again.

Showdown Between Genuine Star and Young Whelp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 DATELINE: MOVIES TO SEE!

 

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Fracture in 2007 pitted grand actor Anthony Hopkins in a battle of wits with young up-and-comer Ryan Gosling.  If you were expecting the torch of acting generations to be passed, you’d be torched in a different way.

 

 

 

The plot revolves around how a mysterious billionaire (Hopkins) on trial for shooting his wife makes mincemeat of a supercilious and arrogant assistant prosecutor (Gosling). We didn’t expect to see Frederic March and Spencer Tracy battling in Inherit the Wind, nor see Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole matching wits in Becket. We didn’t even see Gloria Swanson trump William Holden with a couple of bullets.

 

 

 

It’s no contest in the movie plot, and there is a lesser contest in the acting chops. The Hopkins character out-bests the Gosling character at every turn. It is even more pitiful in the thespian arena. The young star would have given Lee Strasberg a Method headache.

 

 

 

It would be unfair to call Gosling an empty suit. He fills his pants with amplitude. Yet, there is about him something of a blank page in personality. Whatever he plays on screen rings false. He’s a movie star, not a character actor.

 

 

 

Hopkins even in his youthful days opposite Peter O’Toole in Lion in Winter was a requisite character actor as Richard the Lion-Hearted. Here in his later career, Hopkins has to play off the script, which seems to take pleasure in making a laughingstock of the Hollywood leading men of today.

 

 

 

Too bad no one let Ryan Gosling in on the joke. He plays the role with everything in his arsenal and still seems outgunned. Alas, there are too many scenes with Gosling, and not enough with Hopkins.

 

 

 

The movie production plays the movie plot, and therein comes the insider pleasure. Fracture satisfies the audience in ways they may never have expected, but they used to do it better every week on the old Columbo shows.

 

 

 

 

You may sample other movie insights and reviews in MOVIES TO SEE –OR NOT TO SEE by William Russo. The book is available in both e-book and softcover on Amazon.com