More Like Amateur

The Virtuoso

by Hope Madden

Hey, Anthony Hopkins just won his second Oscar! The octogenarian was not the favorite, but there’s no denying that, after dozens of phoned-in near-cameos, he landed the role of a lifetime and gave a performance to match.

So, back to phoned-in near-cameos, I guess.

In director Nick Stagliano’s The Virtuoso, Hopkins plays The Mentor, an enigmatic man in a shadowy office. Mentor to whom, you ask? To The Virtuoso (Anson Mount), of course. He’s one of those “put my black ops training to good use responding only to this one guy by phone who sends me on my missions and otherwise I am utterly, stoically alone” kind of guys.

The Virtuoso is a man of few words—except in voiceover. In voiceover you cannot get him to shut up, his monotone musings on scheduling, technique, blah blah blah so wearying you can’t help but suddenly, brightly realize all over again what an absolute masterpiece American Psycho was.

One hit goes well. One hit goes south. Then we dig in for the next hit, where all the voiceover details about planning, timing, persistence and detail go straight out the window.

From here, we’re with The Virtuoso step by step as he bungles this and misunderstands that and misfires his weapon over here and makes poor decisions over there. It might make a half-decent comedy if it weren’t played so, so, so seriously.

Stagliano and writer James C. Wolf aim for neo-noir hipness but miss the mark by a wide distance.

Mount does what he can and almost generates interest as his character practices making normal people faces in the mirror before going out in public. Hopkins is saddled with nonsensical speeches meant to suggest his deadened soul. He doesn’t try too hard to make anything of it.

Abbie Cornish does try, bringing a flash of human interest as The Waitress. But no amount of homespun charm can save a movie this dumb.

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet, 2021

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Oscars are coming and we get to spend some time celebrating the worst of the horror movies made by nominees. Have they made great horror? Well, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) are nominees, so yes. In fact, there are a whole slew of horror films made by this year’s batch of nominees, most of them far too good to qualify for this list.

No, we want the skeletons. And every single year, nominees have them. Here are this year’s contenders.

5. Daniel Kaluuya: Chatroom (2010) 

What is the matter with this movie? Writer Edna Walsh, who’d go on to pen the excellent films Disco Pigs and Hunger, adapted her own stage play. Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water) directed. The cast is exceptional: Daniel Kaluuya, Imogen Poots, Aaron Taylor-Johnson all play Chelsea teens who hang out in a new chatroom.

How did this to so terribly wrong? As five kids get to know each other online, it turns out that one is a predator looking for a very specific weakness and playing the others against each other. Not a terrible premise, and the overall design is surreal enough to avoid individuals at their laptops. Performances are solid as well.

But, ideas come and go, conflicts arise and disappear, characters appear without warning or introduction and vanish, and storylines fail to make any real sense.

4. Amanda Seyfried & Gary Oldman: Red Riding Hood (2011)

A two-fer! Truth be told, there were plenty of two-fer opportunities with Oldman on this list (he also co-starred with fellow nominee Anthony Hopkins in both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Hannibal).

But this is the one, because it lets us talk about another time he co-starred with Amanda Seyfried. Both are nominated for their work together in 2020’s Mank. Neither were nominated for this.

Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke helms this fractured fairy tale, and it looks gorgeous. The story is overly complicated and stupid, but it hits all the important marks: Valerie (Seyfried) is loved by two potentially dangerous boys whose passion might actually kill her. Oh, it’s such an angsty YA dream!

Seyfried is fine. Oldman is a ham, and he’s such a joy when he’s a ham. There’s a fun cameo from Julie Christie as well. But the weak writing and utterly laughable performances by the two suitors (Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez) are enough to sink this one deep.

3. Anthony Hopkins: The Wolfman (2010)

Hopkins has a lot of horror in his closet, much of it bad. The Rite is the least watchable, but this is the one that’s the most fun to lambast. What a ludicrous waste of talent!

Sir Anthony bites through scenery (among other things) as Sir John Talbot, father of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro). Their background is murky, their property is foggy, their accents are jarringly different.

Director Joe Johnson likes stuff big and hokey. You’ll find that here. The film won an Oscar for its make up, which we cannot get behind. The final battle looks like two rhoided-up Pomeranians duking it out.

Still, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving are good, and even though the great Del Toro sleepwalks through this embarrassment, Hopkins is always a bit of fun when he camps it up in a bad movie.

2. Gary Oldman: The Unborn (2009)

Oh, Gary Oldman, why do you so rarely say no?

He’s just in so, so, so many movies – mathematically speaking, it only makes sense that a lot of them will be terrible. Like this one, a film that feels less like a single cohesive unit and more like a string of individual scenes filmed as examples of cliches and non sequiturs.

Oldman plays a rabbi who works with a Christian minister played by Idris Elba to help an incredibly entitled young woman who looks like a blander version of Megan Fox (Odette Annable) exorcise a Jewish demon who likes twins.

Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, James Remar and Carla Gugino also co-star for no logical reason. Well, writer/director David S. Goyer is also writer David S. Goyer (Blade trilogy & Nolan’s Batman trilogy). This movie came immediately on the heels of 2008’s The Dark Knight, which explains Oldman as well as some unmet expectations.

1. Youn Yuh-jung: Insect Woman (1972)

Youn Yuh-jung is a treasure. Her fifty years in movies boasts dozens of remarkable performances usually marked by quirky humor that never feels gimmicky. She’s had a hell of a 2020, with pivotal supporting roles in Beasts Clawing at Straws and the Oscar-nominated Minari.

She does what she can in writer/director Kim Ki-young’s inexplicably titled Insect Woman.

Oh my God, what a trainwreck! What is going on here? Youn plays a teen with nowhere to turn once her father returns to his wife. Now her mother, older brother and she must fend for themselves. But how? Well, maybe she can be mistress to an impotent (or is he?!) high school teacher.

The film swings back and forth between highly irrational melodrama to profoundly unsexy eroticism to unconvincing gritty street indie. An hour or more into this, they introduce a vampire baby.

I swear!

Then it’s on. Who knows what the hell is happening or is going to happen or why it’s happening or what the film is trying to say. If it were a better movie I’d think Insect Woman was trying to make a point about misogyny and classism in South Korea.

It’s not a better movie, though. It’s very bad.

Role Playing

The Father

by George Wolf

How much you’re moved by The Father will likely depend on how you see the central narrative device employed by director/co-writer Florian Zeller.

Is it a gimmick that cheapens the very subject he’s digging into, or is it an effective – even logical – new frame for a familiar picture?

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman star as father and daughter Anthony and Anne. Now, with these Oscar winners as your leads, your device could be the mail-in offer from the back of a cereal box and it would most likely be riveting, but Zeller has more lofty ambitions.

Anthony’s memory is fading fast, forcing Anne to navigate his mood swings and growing combativeness while she looks for an in-home caregiver who can handle him. Young Laura (Imogen Poots) looks promising, but Anthony’s initial charm at their meeting gives way to insults and accusations about a plan to force him from his well-appointed flat.

But is it his flat? And who is the man in the living room (Mark Gatiss) who says he lives there?

Is Anne really planning to move to Paris with a new boyfriend, or is she still married to the impatient and angry Paul (Rufus Sewell)? And just who is that other woman who looks like Anne (Olivia Williams)? Zeller adapts his own stage play with a profound intimacy that feeds the intentional confusion.

In the last several years, movies such as Away From Her and Amour have mined their greatness through the effect of dementia on the longtime spouse of the afflicted.

But here, not only does Zeller make a sympathetic pivot to the adult child of an ailing parent, but his chamber piece finds its greatest resonance through the heartbreaking empathy that comes from giving us Anthony’s point of view.

And even if the whole affair does strike you as gimmicky, the transcendent heights hit by Hopkins and Colman (and indeed, the entire ensemble) make spending time with The Father more than worthwhile.

As artistic as it is nuanced, as lyrical as it is devastating, it’s a film with not only something to say, but a welcome new approach to saying it.

Just the Two of Us

The Two Popes

by Hope Madden

How funny is it that Hannibal Lecter is playing Pope Benedict XVI?

That’s not the only sly jab Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) takes at the pomp and scandal of the papacy in his latest, but the punches come early and make way quickly for a tone of reconciliation.

Indeed, The Two Popes may be more forgiving than many people will appreciate. Or accept.

But it’s hard to fault the casting.

Anthony Hopkins is better here than he’s been since his Oscar turn as the flesh eater. Frail and humorless (but trying!), Pope Benedict becomes a recognizable figure, one whose solitude and study have isolated him from the people he’s meant to protect and lead.

Jonathan Pryce is perhaps better than he has ever been. An ever reliable “that guy,” Pryce has built a career on versatility, never so showy he outshines the lead, never so unfussy as to be easily ignored. That facility with chemistry elevates his performance here, and as the “everyman’s” pope, Pryce becomes the vehicle for the audience.

Together the two banter back and forth, easily turning Anthony McCarten’s lofty theological and spiritual dialog into passionate conversations between two peers.

The Two Popes offers considerably more nuance than The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour or Bohemian Rhapsody, although McCarten will never be chastened for writing an unforgiving screenplay.

What he’s done with this script is imagine what the dialog between these two men might have been like as Catholicism moved headlong toward a pivotal event unseen for 600ish years. A bit like The Two of Us, Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 2000 fictional conversation between Lennon and McCartney (a pair the popes mention more than once), this film is a smartly crafted fantasy of the behind closed stained glass meetings that might have led to the changeover.

The humor is undoubtedly the brightest surprise the film has in store, but Meirelles keeps the film quick and interesting, his filmmaking simultaneously intimate and elegant. The missteps come as he refocuses attention on the future Pope Francis’s rocky past. These sequences drag, boasting neither the visual flair nor the vibrancy of the modern footage.

It’s hard not to also mark as a weakness the way the film simultaneously admonishes and reflects the Church’s tendency to be too forgiving of clergy.

Still, The Two Popes is hard to resist. In the end – especially at the end – the film is almost criminally charming.

Hammer Time!

 

by George Wolf

 

The very superhero nature of Thor presents a catch-22 for his standalone film installments. The medieval themes which anchor the character don’t really lend themselves to the fun we expect from Avengers films, yet leaving these themes behind would render any Thor adventure rather pointless.

The first film found a way to balance things quite nicely, establishing the blueprint that Thor:  The Dark World revises in even more impressive fashion.

The filmmakers made two smart moves right off the bat:  1) making Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) more than a bystander, and 2) bringing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) back for another round.

Well-rounded villains can make or break these films, and, in Hiddleston’s capable hands, Loki is the most interesting character on the screen. Sentenced to life in an Asgard prison by King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, finding just the right regal tone), Loki suddenly finds himself in high demand.

On Earth, Jane has stumbled into one the portals between worlds, and she becomes the keeper of something an ancient Dark Lord wants very badly. To save Jane and, a bit more importantly, the universe, Thor and Loki have to put aside old grudges and work together.

Director Alan Taylor comes with some serious medieval bonafides, directing several episodes of …pause for a moment of suitably reverential fanboy silence…Game of Thrones. His instincts for the pacing and framework needed to keep the Asgard scenes vital is spot on. While this may not be surprising, Taylor also shows himself to be more than capable of keeping the fun meter jumping as well.

The lively script, while a bit complicated in the early stages, settles into a very enjoyable rhythm that Taylor exploits well. Expect some nice surprises, of both the dark and light variety, as the film builds to an impressive final battle. Screenwriters Christopher Yost,  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely even manage to land a few subtle jabs about the folly of war and how easily one army’s hero can resemble another’s zealot. Well played.

As Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth again displays a mix of charisma, physique and temperament that makes the role his own.  His scenes with Hiddleston are a mischievous hoot, both actors seemingly locked in to both their characters and the expectations of one another.

Aside from one curiously low-tech moment of Thor taking flight, much of the film’s 3D presentation looks fantastic, with a broader, more heroic gloss. In particular, an Asgard ceremony set amid candle lights and waterfalls is downright stunning.

The only thing keeping Thor:  The Dark World from superhero elite status is a first act that drags a bit. Once that is vanquished, acts two and three bring richer storytelling than we have seen from Thor. Yes, this film is darker, but it’s also more fun.

And, keep in your seat for two extra scenes.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Not Too Old for This Shit

 

by George Wolf

 

RED was not a great movie, but a clever script and an extremely likable cast made it a helluva fun ride and a mildly surprising hit.

So, for RED 2, then..more of the same?

You bet, and it works just as well.

This time around, ex-CIA badass Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is determined to stay Retired Extremely Dangerous, living the domestic life with his sweetie Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) in the suburbs. Sarah, though, kinda liked her introduction to the spy game, so when their old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up with an invitation, she pushes Frank to accept.

And with that, we’re off to the races. Sure, they’re ridiculous races, but that hardly matters with old friends (Helen Mirren) and new friends (Catherine Zeta Jones, Anthony Hopkins) as cool as these.

Screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber return from part one, again providing plenty of snappy dialogue for their veteran actors, while director Dean Parisot (the underrated Galaxy Quest) has no trouble staging globe trotting action sequences or blowing things up.

Parisot is also smart enough to know that with a cast such as this, sometimes you just stay out of the way.

Malkovich and Parker are deliciously droll and often hilarious, and Mirren, well really, don’t we all want to grow up to be Helen Mirren?

Even Willis seems rejuvenated, after sleepwalking through the latest G.I. Joe and Die Hard installments. This is a tough guy character with a softer shade, and he seems to relish it.

It’s at least twenty minutes too long, and the novelty of aging asskickers may not survive future installments, but right here, right now, RED  2 pegs the fun meter early and often.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars