Anthony Hopkins

Review – Transformers: The Last Knight

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Review – Transformers: The Last Knight

Michael Bay’s (apparently) final Transformers movie was a marvel of special effects and glorious, beautiful explosions. A lot of people really didn’t like it.
Guest columnist Narrator26 weighs in.

Michael Bay’s latest installment into his much-maligned Transformers series rolled out this past weekend to serve yet another overlong feast of bloated robot mayhem. And with Bay finally vacating the director’s chair after this entry, one might be forgiven for thinking that he would try to go out on a high of sorts; predictably though, that’s not the case.

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Movie Review: The Wolfman

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Movie Review: The Wolfman

There have been plenty of Wolfmen throughout movie history and now we can add Benicio Del Toro to the list. He joins greats such as Michael J. Fox, the guy from American Werewolf in London and even the Twilight guys just to name a few. Despite not having seen Twilight, I think it’s safe to say that Del Toro is the most badass out of all. The Wolfman was released on February 12th and I had a chance to check it out. Read On

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Beowulf

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Matinee Price, begrudgingly

If you’re going to see Beowulf, at least see it in the 3D IMAX if at all possible. There is little substance or poetry in this adaptation of the oldest written story in the English language, but it certainly wants your undivided attention for the stuff it added. (Note to students: do not base your report on this film! Just read Seamus Heaney’s translation, it’s pretty painless.) It was not as terrible as I suspected it would be, nor as good as it should have been with Neil Gaiman (with Roger Avery) handling the screenplay. The 3D is very good – not to much hurling of items or forced perspective, but there is some. It’s most effective when used in the same way as multiplane animation – to add depth to scenery or richness in the depth of field.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know director Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf was made using the same motion capture technology as his Polar Express. The technique has improved over the past 3 years, but this film still looks like the world’s longest video game cut scene. And it is just shy of two hours long, ladies and germs.
Beowulf begins in Denmark in the year 507 AD. Stiff-faced subjects of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) are savaged by the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover, even speaking in proper Old English dialect). Accents are all over the map, but it’s hard to know what early Dane-Saxon dialect really sounded like; it would have been nice to have some consistency though. Here comes CGI-buffed Beowulf (Ray Winstone, who does not look like that) to save the day, hiding his nakedness in a series of ridiculous Austin Powers-esque camera tricks. Who’s mad? Grendel’s mom (Angelina Jolie, as a healthier, prettier version of herself). It’s distracting to have Jolie look just like Jolie, hair and mole and all. Sure, Hopkins and John Malkovich and Robin Wright Penn all look like their wax selves, but Jolie is on 200 magazine covers, being distracting and annoying – and we all know about her husband-stealing fetishes. So while I have never before been distracted by a celebrity’s personal life in a movie, I sure was now. She was just…herself, crazy eyes and man-stealing and all.

Beowulf is rated PG-13, but it’s about as gory scary as any Rated T for Teen video game, without a live-action movie’s sense of empathy. I would hate to take an under-13 year old kid who would be constantly “What did he say? Why’s he doing that? When’s it over?” The motion capture is still creepy and weightless and stiff. I hate to say it, but Shrek 3 looked better, and there you have that. It’s OK, but it’s definitely going to be better on the big screen than it ever will be at home.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 11/16/07
Time in minutes 113
Director Robert Zemeckis
Studio Paramount / Warner Brothers

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The Human Stain

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It is difficult to discuss the crux of this film without revealing a major plot point. If you are as ignorant of the key issue of this film, it may come as much of a surprise to you mid-movie as it did to me. The ineffectiveness of setting this premise up to be believable and the other elements of the film that only serve to distract from that interesting story line, make this movie a failure in my eyes, despite the aspects of it that are actually very finely crafted. It was carefully wrought but still comes off unsatisfying and clumsy. No mean feat.

Adapted from the novel of the same title by Philip Roth, The Human Stain superficially is about people’s impressions of each other versus their inner truths. The action in Mr. Roth’s book centers on Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), a revered and controversial classics professor who retires into an abrupt widowhood after he is accused of making a racist remark in class. The Achilles heel of his career is the secret that prevents this remark from being understood properly, considering the source. The film is about passing, not just passing for something other than what you really are, but passing out of your realness into someone else’s idea of who you are or who you should be. It’s even about passing away, as in dying, in the eyes of those who love you. With all these heady themes, and with such powerhouse actors on deck to portray everyone, why did this movie leave me cold? I’ll tell you.

Hopkins seems well-cast as an ivy-league tenured prof, with his gentle measured voice and steady English manner, until we meet his young self, infinitely more colorful and American and suddenly we think, how did Silk turn into this Knight of the Realm? The most intriguing parts of the movie for me were the flashbacks into Coleman Silk’s college days, where he was played by Wentworth Miller, a much more apt physical casting of a man who is one or both of the two most derided ethnic minorities in the world. Miller is fantastic and compelling and he sucked me into the story even right after Kidman had kicked me out. Chronologically the story unfolds in Silk’s college days and his current retirement days, with the obligatory hook of showing the end of the movie as the first scene to make you go, “How did we get here?” But big chunks of character and story did not make it into this adaptation and the result is a mish mash of Acting! and backstory.

Into Silk’s life barges a woman, Fornia (Nicole Kidman) who practically jumps in his lap and yet constantly pushes him away. Kidman is inherently an ice goddess and despite her amazing American accent and attitude and her determination to seem “low rent” she just cannot embody this creature in a way that works for this film. As a result, her palpable screen presence dominates her scenes, instead of what she is saying. In addition, her dialogue is crazy and random and cryptic and actually quite annoying. She drives her scenes into a tree with her gruff declarations of craziness. She is a bundle of rage and issues with no respite, no growth, no change. What besides her lyric beauty would attract an educated and sensitive man such as Silk? The film bogged down every time she was on screen. I have not read the novel but I am led to understand that certain characters (such as those played by Sinise and Harris) carry a very different weight on paper and I wonder if they would have balanced Kidman’s character’s crazy randomness better.

Fornia’s crazy ‘Nam vet husband (or ex-husband, it’sunclear) is played by Dennis Hopper, I’m sorry, Ed Harris doing a perfect Dennis Hopper impression. Silk’s best friend Nathan (who he met by barging into his house and forcing him to be his friend, not unlike Fornia’s seduction of himself) is played by Gary Sinise. All the scenes with Nathan seem to have been meant to be profound and instead end up feeling very “this will look great in an Oscar montage some day.” I understand Nathan is supposed to be more pivotal in Silk’s journey in this story, but instead he feels tacked on.

I am sorry that my refusal to publish spoilers prevents me from stating the obvious problem with this movie, but I hope that if you do choose to see it, you will not spend too much money on it. Wentworth Miller is the best part.

MPAA Rating R-language and sexuality/nudity.
Release date 10/31/03
Time in minutes 106
Director Robert Benton
Studio Miramax

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Hannibal

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It is inevitable that this movie will be compared to Silence of the Lambs, and well it should. As an obsessive with regards to Jonathan Demme’s 1991 multiple Academy Award-winning film, I fear the brunt of my criticism here will be steeped in comparisons. Sorry. I also apologize for the tardiness of this review – every time I tried to see this film, it was sold out. It made Spielberg and Lucas-size bucks opening weekend, which shows you how much people have wanted it to come out. I can’t imagine that that many people read the book, since the book was, well, universally loathed. Judging by the screaming and cringing going on during some of the scenes, I suspect I am right. Director Ridley Scott knows how to work up an audience on a visceral level, and he takes a difficult text and makes it work on screen.

Lambs was first a film that focused on the intellectual chemistry between its main characters, Lecter and Starling, and secondly a crime thriller with villains capable of doing things we can barely endure to hear tell of. Lecter impressed us, he seduced us, with his charisma, his insight, his probity, his erudition, and his scorn for the discourteous. He could see through all with whom he spoke, and his disdain for those who tried to study him elevated him above simple brutal madman. Starling was gutsy to go toe to glass-encased toe with him, and Jodie Foster made us all feel we know her, her level of integrity and how completely opposite from Lecter she is. He admires her for this strength, and their dynamic fascinates us still.

Now, Hannibal the Cannibal is back, living his life, but of course eternally careful, always a dangerous animal even when he is behaving in a civilized manner. He is keenly intelligent – he knows the cause and effect of enacting his mad impulses. He also is the best of film smartypants characters, and we love him even as we cringe in fear that he might notice us. In Lambs, he was an elegant villain, all verbal knives, but whose (in that film) isolated acts of extreme violence served as a pointed contrast to his scholarly, urbane persona with Clarice. In Hannibal, he pretty much cuts loose, for no real reason, and comes toward, not after, Starling (played now by Julianne Moore, more on that in a bit), leaving a bloody mess in his wake. The gore is half-seen, mostly, even somewhat implied; (well, except for…) nothing like what we saw in Gladiator or The Patriot or Saving Private Ryan, yet all people talk about is how gory this film is. Someone compared it to Dead Alive, which is like comparing the violence in Bambi to that in Heavy Metal.

The weakness of Hannibal (the movie) is not only its source material (wherein Starling flies way off her character track and, inexplicably, becomes a sniveling victim in the process) but also in not reveling in the deliciousness that is the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is such an impressive literary figure, so unique, so compelling, and here he’s just a smart guy with a short temper who is on the lam, so to speak. Those who endured the novel will be pleased to know that they dropped a couple of the more freak-showy sub-plots, and changed the ending, but also kept it. You know what I mean. It was anti-climactic, in a way, but still effective, if the writhing sorority girls in my audience are any litmus test.

Julianne Moore. I am neither a fan nor a detractor of Moore as an actress, I generally enjoy her. I have a particularly deep fondness for Jodie Foster bordering on the maternal, so I was sad to hear she’d turned down the film (but I read the book and so was not surprised). Who can fill those cheap shoes? Foster is a great actress who filled this character with brains to match such a figure as Hannibal Lecter, and you can hear her mind working as she emotes. Tough shoes to fill. Julianne Moore kept the accent, and the screenwriter kept her cadences, and Moore did a great job, as good as anyone could do. I felt she was Clarice really about 15 minutes into the film, and I relaxed, knowing Moore would take care of business. So brava, Julianne!

Oh yeah, there were other people in the film – Gary Oldman with his creepy scars, Giancarlo Giannini as the Italian policeman who sets the action moving, but let’s face it. We love these books and films because of Starling and Lecter’s dynamic, it’s the interplay and the power balance and their unique strengths that bring us back. It’s worth seeing, but think of it as its own work and don’t (despite all I have said) compare it with Lambs.

*note: I am so so regretful of this high rating!

MPAA Rating R-strong violence/nudity/language.
Release date 2/9/01
Time in minutes 130
Director Ridley Scott
Studio MGM-Universal