After being imprisoned by a fire demon, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) learns that Asgard is about to be destroyed and the one responsible will be his sister, Odin’s firstborn, Hela (Cate Blanchett). The third film in the franchise has Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) colliding on a faraway planet and then teaming up to save Asgard; this is what they were up to while Captain America and Tony Stark battled it out in Captain America: Civil War (2016). A completely bonkers Marvel film in 3D, the funniest one to date, with great tongue-in-cheek performances by Hemsworth, Ruffalo and especially Jeff Goldblum as the most Goldblum-esque of supervillains. Admirably colorful attempt to shake up the formula.
2017-U.S. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Kevin Feige. Directed by Taika Waititi. Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost. Music: Mark Mothersbaugh. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson… Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cameos: Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Stan Lee.
Last word: “I put together a sizzle reel, and that was basically… because there was no storyline, or anything… I don’t really know what I’m going for, so I’ll just get shots from movies I think are cool [laughs] and put together sort of a tone reel. For like, the energy and the colour and sort of what might look cool for this film that no one has any idea about a story for. And so, I did that, and I put ‘Immigrant Song‘ over the top of it, and then played it for them. And they were like, ‘Oh that’s really cool. That’s a cool song. What’s that?’ I was like, [deadpan] ‘It’s ‘Immigrant Song’, Led Zeppelin, one of the most famous songs of all time.’ They were like, ‘Oh cool, never heard it before, very cool.'” (Waititi, Den of Geek)
An account of the last days of the Nazi leadership as they were hunkering in a Berlin bunker, waiting for the end – and for Adolf Hitler to understand that the war was lost. Based on the findings of journalist James P. O’Donnell, the first American to enter the bunker after the war, the film dramatizes events in a reasonably believable way, from the different perspectives of those who were there. A lion’s share of the story focuses on the relationship between Hitler and Speer and how the latter defied the Fuhrer’s desperate final plans to punish his people for not winning. A taut, claustrophobic drama, with Anthony Hopkins compelling as a frail, distracted Hitler.
1981-U.S. Made for TV. 154 min. Color. Produced and directed by George Schaefer. Teleplay: John Gay. Book: James P. O’Donnell. Cast: Anthony Hopkins (Adolf Hitler), Richard Jordan (Albert Speer), Cliff Gorman (Joseph Goebbels), James Naughton, Michael Lonsdale, Piper Laurie… Susan Blakely, Julian Fellowes. Narrated by James P O’Donnell.
Trivia: Michael Sheard and Tony Steedman played Himmler and Jodl also in the British TV movie The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973).
Emmy: Outstanding Actor (Hopkins).
Last word: “One of the producers said to me after viewing the dailies: ‘You’re kind of making him a nice guy. Could you make him less human?’ I said ‘What do you mean? He was human, that’s what’s so horrific about him!’ They walk among us. We all have that in us. There was a man, his name was Schuschnigg. He was Chancellor of Austria. Just before the Germans marched into Austria to take it over, Schuschnigg was summoned to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler. He said Hitler was quite charming, and he even let him smoke, and Hitler despised cigarette smoke. So they all had lunch: he, Hitler, Eva Braun, Goehring, Goebbels, everything was fine, but he knew something was up. So lunch was over and Hitler showed Schuschnigg into his office, locked the door and proceeded to scream at him for 90 minutes, just absolutely salivating. Schuschnigg said ‘I knew then and there that I was in the presence of the devil.'” (Hopkins, The Hollywood Interview)
Optimus Prime and Megatron are long gone, but new Transformers keep coming back to Earth; Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) finds new allies in his quest to learn why. The fifth and worst of the franchise (so far) relies on a lot of comedy that falls flat (including a butler bot voiced by Downton Abbey star Jim Carter) and when it isn’t cheesy, as in the opening that takes us back to the age of King Arthur, it’s downright dull. The 3D battles are all vintage Michael Bay, but curiously unimpressive. Anthony Hopkins is woefully wasted.
2017-U.S. 148 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Michael Bay. Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Laura Haddock (Vivian Wembley), Anthony Hopkins (Sir Edmund Burton), Josh Duhamel, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael… Stanley Tucci, John Turturro. Voices of John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Steve Buscemi, Omar Sy.
Director Jonathan Demme died today, 73 years old. In the clip above, he and Paul Thomas Anderson (who’s a big fan) talk about the creative process behind Demme’s films at the 2015 Austin Film Festival. If you want to learn more about The Silence of the Lambs (1991), go ahead and listen.
Born in Baldwin, New York, Demme started out in showbiz as a writer and producer, working on Roger Corman’s movies in the 1970s. That’s also where he got his chance at directing, making low-budget exploitation and action/comedy films for Corman’s studio. He broke into the mainstream with comedies in the 1980s, such as Melvin and Howard(1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob (1988), none of them outstanding but effective genre pieces.
This was also the decade when Demme made his mark as a documentary filmmaker. In 1984, he released Stop Making Sense, his first concert film, an incredibly dynamic experience starring Talking Heads; in the clip above, the band performs “Once in a Lifetime”. Demme also made music videos for several artists and other documentaries, such as Man from Plains (2007), about President Jimmy Carter. He cared about humanistic causes, which he frequently returned to in his documentaries.
In the 1990s, Demme abandoned comedies in favor of darker subject matters. The Silence of the Lambsbecame his greatest success, earning him an Oscar. A marvelously taut and scary thriller, it featured amazing performances and Demme’s deliberately subjective camera helped create a hypnotic atmosphere, as in the clip above, Clarice’s (Jodie Foster) first meeting with serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).
Philadelphia (1993) became known as Hollywood’s first real attempt at depicting the AIDS crisis. Even though Demme’s career went into decline after that, he still made Rachel Getting Marriedin 2008, a realistic, hand-held drama with lots of good live music throughout. In many ways, that film combined some of the director’s best traits.
Demme’s last movie was Ricki and the Flash (2015), starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker. Seems like a somewhat appropriate way to end an admirable career.
THE MEN OF THE LUDLOW FAMILY. A WOMAN’S GRACE BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER. THEN HER PASSION TORE THEM APART.
At the start of World War I, retired colonel William Ludlow’s (Anthony Hopkins) three sons all go against his wishes and join the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight the Germans in Europe… A handsomely produced epic that became a hit thanks to Brad Pitt’s star status that went hand in glove with the simple soap opera elements here. The story plays out from WWI to the Prohibition Era and we see how the Ludlows’ lives are affected by war, love and rivalry over one woman (Julia Ormond). Beautifully shot, great score, but too polished and predictable.
1994-U.S. 134 min. Color. Directed by Edward Zwick. Novella: Jim Harrison. Cinematography: John Toll. Music: James Horner. Cast: Brad Pitt (Tristan Ludlow), Anthony Hopkins (William Ludlow), Aidan Quinn (Alfred Ludlow), Julia Ormond (Susannah Fincannon), Henry Thomas, Karina Lombard.
Trivia: Johnny Depp was allegedly considered for the part of Tristan.
FREEDOM IS NOT GIVEN. IT IS OUR RIGHT AT BIRTH. BUT THERE ARE SOME MOMENTS WHEN IT MUST BE TAKEN.
In 1839, enslaved Africans take over La Amistad, a Spanish ship heading into American waters, and kill some of the crew; after being caught by the Navy, the Africans end up in court. After making Schindler’s List (1993), Steven Spielberg tackled slavery with this reality-based story, painting it as a forerunner to the Civil War. Historians have questioned that, and there are several other credibility issues here. The greatest problem though is the film’s lack of dramatic heft; it’s long and talky. Still, John Williams’s music is powerful and the film has great performances, especially Djimon Hounsou in his breakthrough.
1997-U.S. 152 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Debbie Allen, Steven Spielberg, Colin Wilson. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: David Franzoni. Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski. Music: John Williams. Cast: Morgan Freeman (Theodore Joadson), Anthony Hopkins (John Quincy Adams), Matthew McConaughey (Roger Sherman Baldwin), Nigel Hawthorne, Djimon Hounsou, David Paymer… Pete Postlethwaite, Stellan Skarsgård, Anna Paquin, Jeremy Northam, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Trivia: Ejiofor’s film debut. Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun plays a judge in the film.
Yesterday’s news of Anton Yelchin being found dead outside his home, crushed by his car in a freak accident, was quite a shock. I remember seeing Yelchin in David Duchovny’s directing debut House of D a decade ago, thinking this kid is the stand-out of the movie, even though Robin Williams had a showier role. In the interview above from 2011, Yelchin talks to Scott Feinberg of the New York Times about his career and Hollywood experiences.
Born in then-Leningrad in 1989, Anton Yelchin’s parents were figure skaters who escaped to the United States six months after Anton was born. It didn’t take long for young Anton to be introduced to movies and TV as an actor. In the clip on top of this blog entry, it’s obvious how educational the experience of working on Hearts of Atlantis (2001) was for Yelchin, being close to both director Scott Hicks and Anthony Hopkins. His first minor breakthrough though was in House of D and he’s so good in it.
Anton Yelchin continued to get good roles in films like Alpha Dog(2007) and Charlie Bartlett(2008). In 2009, he got the opportunity to play two iconic roles, as Chekov in Star Trek and Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation. Two years later, he also got to battle vampires in Fright Night. This summer, he’ll play Chekov for the third time in Star Trek Beyond. Yelchin got a taste of Hollywood blockbusters, but he also made lots of smaller films. In 2007, he returned to Russia to shoot You and I, a film that wasn’t released until years later, but featured the controversial Russian pop duo t.A.T.u.
Lots of Star Trek personalities expressed their grief over Yelchin’s death yesterday, and so did many other Hollywood personalities. But J.J. Abrams stood out with the following hand-written note via his company Bad Robot:
Anton Yelchin was set to play the serial killer in an upcoming TV adaptation of Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes” novels. Having the ability to appear both sweet and dark, he would have been perfect in that part. Yelchin will indeed be missed.
The story of how Noah (Russell Crowe) came to build the ark that saved two of all species from the wrath of God gets its Hollywood blockbuster treatment. Effects-laden, majestic and sometimes completely absurd, director Darren Aronofsky’s film is nevertheless packed with visual treats and a provocative philosophy; this is a very untraditional way to tell a Bible story. Never boring, with “the Watchers”, stone golems, as an ingredient that elevates an exciting battle later on in the film. Crowe is solid, but the story loses momentum near the end when the fight is on to destroy Ray Winstone’s villain.
2014-U.S. 138 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel. Cast: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman. Voices of Nick Nolte, Frank Langella.
Trivia: Michael Fassbender and Christian Bale were allegedly considered as Noah.
After the events of The Avengers (2012), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is brought back to Asgard in chains, but Thor (Chris Hemsworth) soon faces another formidable enemy – a dark elf looking for revenge. Helmed by a new director, this sequel to Thor (2011) nevertheless maintains the same tone, successfully blending comedy and action in imaginative, colorful 3D landscapes. The story has Loki manipulating our minds, while also throwing us from one realm to the next (including Earth, sorry, Midgard), sometimes even in the middle of a battle. Very familiar, but deftly handled.
2013-U.S. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Alan Taylor. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston… Ray Stevenson, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins. Cameos: Benicio Del Toro, Stan Lee, Chris Evans.
Just as he’s settling down with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) once again finds himself in danger; soon, they’re both joining old friends in the search for a mysterious Cold War-era weapon. This sequel to Red (2010) pales a bit in comparison and begins to resemble an Expendables movie, partly because of the hard-shooting, hard-fighting cast of old pros, and partly because of the strained sense of humor. A silly story is padded out to almost two hours, but bits and pieces are certainly lively enough.
2013-U.S. 116 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Dean Parisot. Cast: Bruce Willis (Frank Moses), John Malkovich (Marvin Boggs), Mary-Louise Parker (Sarah Ross), Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee… Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Thewlis, Brian Cox, Steven Berkoff.
It happens, although not very often, that a filmmaker creates two masterpieces in a row. James Ivory and his team had barely released and received Oscars for Howards End (1992) when they made The Remains of the Day. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that virtually everyone who was involved in the E.M. Forster adaptation also labored on this one, a filmization of a much more recent book. Both films share not only key crew members and themes, but most visibly stars – Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson reunited for that most restrained of love stories.
In the 1950s, Mr. Stevens (Hopkins), the butler of Darlington Hall, takes some time off and journeys to a small English town where he is to meet Sally Kenton (Thompson), who is now Mrs. Benn. Perhaps he can talk her into returning to Darlington Hall as housekeeper. During his trip, Mr. Stevens’s thoughts wander back to those years in the 1930s when the manor was owned by Lord Darlington (James Fox) and Miss Kenton came to work there. An admirer of Germany, the lord was desperately trying to ease tensions between the German leadership and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, thoughtlessly entertaining Nazi-friendly guests and flirting with anti-Semitic notions. Mr. Stevens’s job was to remain as helpful and invisible as possible, displaying almost no emotions whatsoever, not even when his own father (Peter Vaughan) was employed as a footman and subsequently fell ill. As Miss Kenton tried to figure out what motivated the impossibly cold head butler, Darlington Hall prepared for a major conference where representatives from Britain, France, Germany and the United States were to discuss how to promote peace…
Foundations are crumbling I hadn’t seen this film for almost twenty years, but it’s hard not to be instantly drawn into its world, set in a time that was about to change. Howards End portrayed an era when the British class society remained strong. This film shows that the foundations are still there decades later, but crumbling; after the war, Lord Darlington loses everything and his manor is purchased by an American. The upper class is viewed by Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala as pitiful, consisting of foolish and arrogant men who don’t know any better, which is pointed out in a memorable scene by Christopher Reeve’s American participant at the peace conference. The film received some criticism for not digging as deep as the novel, but the filmmakers really do honor its themes. Mr. Stevens may be “invisible” but he’s front and center of the story, sometimes challenged by others, as when Lord Darlington tells him to fire two recently-employed Jewish girls for no good reason. Apart from politics, the film also wants us to ponder the butler’s life as a whole. Is he unhappy, or could this devotion to duty be all that he wants from life? There’s a few beautifully conceived scenes between him and Miss Kenton that indicate otherwise (especially one of the final shots that echo Brief Encounter (1945)), but the answer is not obvious. Hopkins plays Stevens with a polite demeanor that reveals nothing but still allows for plenty of interpretation. Thompson’s effort needs to be more emotional and she acquits herself very nicely. Reeve is also worth a look in his last notable role before the accident that made him a quadriplegic.
Cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts expertly captures the stately English countryside with a hint of darkness. Fans of Downton Abbey will eat this up… and if they have any sense, they will demand from the ITV drama and its creator Julian Fellowes to up their game.
The Remains of the Day 1993-U.S. 135 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Mike Nichols, John Calley, Ismail Merchant. Directed by James Ivory. Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Novel: Kazuo Ishiguro. Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts. Music: Richard Robbins. Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, John Bright. Cast: Anthony Hopkins (James Stevens), Emma Thompson (Sarah “Sally” Kenton), James Fox (Lord Darlington), Christopher Reeve, Peter Vaughan, Hugh Grant… Michael Lonsdale.
Trivia: Jeremy Irons and Anjelica Huston were allegedly considered for roles. The original version of the script was written by Harold Pinter, meant for Mike Nichols to direct.
Last word: “It sounds pretentious to say it’s Chekhovian, but, really, so much is said by not being said. Stevens and Miss Kenton discuss the most ridiculous things, like jugs and dust, and underneath them this passionate and tragic story is being staged. She falls in love with him, and that is her downfall, because she cannot crack his walnut carapace. It’s about one of the most important things of all: you have to say to people you love them. Otherwise they go away, and suddenly you find you’ve come to the end of your life, and it’s too late.” (Thompson, This Distracted Globe)
One of director Woody Allen’s films that are set in Britain, this one following multiple characters and their romantic tribulations. A fortune teller is at the center of it all and we get to ponder the foolishness of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side, illustrated to greatest effect by Josh Brolin’s character who can’t stop thinking about the sexy woman he keeps seeing from his bedroom window. Amusing, funny at times, and the cast delivers (including several internationally lesser known Brits)… but awfully familiar.
2010-U.S.-Spain. 98 min. Color. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Cast: Naomi Watts (Sally), Josh Brolin (Roy), Anthony Hopkins (Alfie), Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Neil Jackson.
Trivia: Nicole Kidman was first cast in the part that came to be played by Lucy Punch.
Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is on top of his game, but when he decides to turn a real-life story about a deranged murderer who shared a bed with his dead mother into a movie, he’s in for a challenge. The story of how Psycho (1960) risked ending the career for the Master of Suspense is also an analysis of his marriage; there was plenty of devotion, but also distractions and indiscretions. The film also tries to create a psychological connection between Hitch and Ed Gein, the killer who inspired Norman Bates. As a drama, the film comes up short, but is elevated by the cast, excellent makeup design, good pacing and an admirably light touch.
2012-U.S. 98 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ivan Reitman, Alan Barnette, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock, Tom Thayer. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Screenplay: John J. MacLaughlin. Book: Stephen Rebello (“Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”). Cast: Anthony Hopkins (Alfred Hitchcock), Helen Mirren (Alma Reville), Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh), Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg… Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Ralph Macchio.
Last word: “When we met to me, Tony [Hopkins] said, ‘This is not going to be the story of the making of a great movie, is it?’ I said, ‘As a back-drop, yeah, but it’s really this relationship story.’ We made a decision to make a different kind of movie than the one that people had anticipated. To me, there was no emotion in showing how shots were done of a great movie that stands alone. First of all, the movie never would have gotten made. And second of all, there wasn’t really much emotional drama to it. The untold story was the one of their relationship, and that’s what we decided to focus on. Tony and Helen and I really wanted to tell that story because it was something different.” (Gervasi, Collider)