How far can one person take an ideology before it becomes extremism and they begin to put their life and those of their loved ones in danger? Peter Weir is a painstakingly meticulous filmmaker yet somehow lets his intensely focused visions breathe so organic and free, and he explores this notion in The Mosquito Coast, a curious and brilliant film that looks at the journey of one family from rural Massachusetts to the wilds of coastal Honduras.
Harrison Ford is Allie Fox, an inventor who loathes bloated American consumerism and wishes to leave for something more practical, more elemental. He packs up and along with his wife (Helen Mirren) and four children (River Phoenix, Jadrian Steele, Rebecca and Hilary Gordon), leaves the US behind for good in favour of the Central American jungle. Buying a solid few acres, he bands together with locals to create agricultural structure and engineering innovation in this nearly untouched frontier. For a while he’s successful, and life is good, if a little chaotic and unorthodox. But is it all enough? Obstacles arise as they naturally would in such a wild card of a region, but ultimately he finds that the biggest hurdle to face is his own stubborn, obstinate and eventually dangerous nature.
Allie is an undeniably gifted man whose work bears actual merit unlike many bumpkin blowhard inventors in cinema and he succeeds in some of his ventures. The thing is, and this is how the character struck me anyways, this guy has always probably had the seeds of an unstable trajectory in his personality for a while and such an upheaval of life probably accelerated it. He becomes borderline psychotic as the film wears on and I found myself feeling sympathetic, sad and finally downright scared for his family. But what to make of the man himself? Ford is absolutely brilliant and so unlike his usual heroic, steady eyed self. There’s a sinewy mettle that gets him a good distance of the way, but as soon as things start to not go *his* way for long enough, he unravels and it’s quite a disarming thing to see. Weir observes with tact and patience as Maurice Jarre’s ambient score bears witness and John Seale’s lush cinematography intoxicates the screen. This is a very compelling achievement but it’s somehow hard for me to describe exactly how it affected me so; it’s a difficult, often sad, touching and very unique experience that explores one man’s place in the world or at least how hard he tries to find it and flounders in the process. In doing so it makes one think of humanity across all the continents, our place in both nature and infrastructure and how both, one or even none of those may satisfy or make restless any given individual. I would say this is one of Peter Weir’s best films but considering the guy has uniformly made only excellent work throughout his career, the fact that it’s made by this wonderful artist should just speak for itself. Highly recommended.
I feel like a lot of people were expecting a vast, loosely paced biopic from Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, but what they really got was a tight, sardonic, laser focused and surprisingly emotional look at the relationship with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), during the making of Psycho, and the monumental struggle it took in bringing the now iconic horror film to being. It’s about adjusting your expectations really, and keeping them in check, and you can enjoy what is one of the best films of that year. Meticulously casted with a galaxy of brilliant actors, royally mounted in terms of production design and costume (Oscar shamefully glossed over it in those categories) and written with brittle, whip-crack wit by John J. McLaughlin, it’s a treat for cinema lovers and Hitchcock junkies alike. Anthony Hopkins plays the old goat as a stubborn, eccentric, obtuse man, a filmmakers who is so fascinated by the universal revilement he’s met with upon pitching Psycho that he morbidly just has to see the production through, even if it means friction from all angles including Alma, the studio, the censorship board and everyone in between, not to mention mortgaging his snazzy mansion in the process. It’s an interesting look at one of the most important mile markers in the horror legacy, the dawn of the slasher film and Hollywood’s begrudging shift from camp to lurid exploits in the fright flick, which saw Alfred gleefully starting the snowball effect with Psycho. James D’arcy is uncannily perfect as Anthony ‘Norman Bates’ Perkins, Scarlett Johansson captures the virility and charisma of Janet Leigh magnetically, and Jessica Biel does great work as Vera Miles, looking almost unrecognizable. Hitchcock based the character of Norman Bates on famed serial killer Ed Gein, and as such the filmmakers have him appear to Hopkins in ghostly fashion, played grimly and excellently by character actor Michael Wincott, a supernatural stylistic flourish that some hated for its gimmickry but I found a neat, provocative touch. The cast gets deeper with work from Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Ralph Macchio, Richard Portnow, Michael Stuhlburg, Frank Collison and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith as a crusty chairman of the censorship board. Hopkins slithers expertly into the prosthetic makeup and opaque personality of the character, clearly having a mischievous blast and cutting loose from some of the more laconic roles he’s done, it’s one of his most engaging performances. Sure it’s not a grand old biopic of the guy, spanning years and leaping multiple story arcs, but I found the intimate focus on his marriage and Psycho to be deliberate, riveting and well deserving of any audience’s attention, especially for fans of that era of Hollywood. A winner.
Brighton Rock is a character study focusing on one of the most delinquent, misanthropic, sociopathic, maladjusted pieces of work you’ve ever seen. The fiend I speak of is a wannabe British gangster named Pinkie, played by Sam Riley, an actor who doesn’t usually get this dark with his work, but makes quite the impression when he does. Pinkie lives in the seaside town of Brighton, and aspires to rule the crime faction there with a razor brandishing, snarling, self destructive death wish. Despite the quaint and quite pleasant coastal setting, this is a cold as ice story about a guy who brings nothing but despair and violence to everyone including himself. Showing up on the scene to oust local bigwig Phil Corkery (John Hurt), Pinkie declares personal war on everyone around him in a spectacular downward spiral of burnt bridges and furious confrontations. There’s also what has to be one of the most dysfunctional ‘love’ stories to be found anywhere, between him and a clueless waitress played by a very young Andrea Riseborough. She’s deluded by the bad boy effect, blind to the fact that Pinkie cares for her about as much as roadkill. She’s a plaything to him, a curiosity to be toyed with and eventually discarded, or worse. She loves him, or at least naively believes she does, making it quite sad and unfortunate to see their bitter courtship circle the sinkhole. Helen Mirren plays her restauranteur boss who feels the bad vibes coming off Pinkie in waves, and warms poor Andrea. Needless to say, these warnings go unheeded. Watch for Sean Harris, Phil Davis and Andy Serkis in appropriately scummy roles as well. This is Riley’s show, and he owns it with the force tyrannical pissant who is positively bursting with self loathing and homicidal hatred. A dour tale hiding beneath a picturesque shell, strangling us in malaise before we know what’s hit us.
More of the same, baby. That’s a good thing in this case as we rejoin ex assassin Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his merry band of morons for another set of high caliber swashbuckling, this one even sillier than their first picnic. The key is in the deadpan humour, which is served up with all the relish needed to make something so fluffy work. Most of the eclectic cast is back for second helpings, and the ones who caught bullets are replaced by even more bankable names and familiar faces here. Moses, his girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker, finally aquiring her sea legs when it comes to warming up to the carnage) and loony old friend Marvin (John Malkovich) find themselves thrown headlong into an arms race to find a deadly super weapon before it’s either detonated or aquired by very dangerous people. Leading them along is a frazzled ex MI6 spook and mathematical genius (Anthony Hopkins in silly mode) who has seriously lost his marbles. On their tail is scary CIA psychopath Jack Horton (Neal McDonough nails yet another heinous villain role) who brandishes his silenced pistol with the same verve he uses to flash that icy grin, the last thing you see before the shooting starts. Helen Mirren returns, as does her beau, played again by Brian Cox and his teddy bear worthy russian accent. Other newcomers include Korean superstar Byung-Hun Lee as an agile and pissed off assassin out to get Moses, Catherine Zeta Jones as a foxy russian femme fatale and Professor Lupin himself David Thewlis as a snooty arms dealer called The Frog, but not for te reasons you might think. When actors of such skill and notoriety show up in these, it really makes everything else worth it, even if the plot is somewhat up in the clouds, and the mad das, rat race tone can get a bit too loopy. These pros always keep it grounded when they need to, both with shooting and acting prowess. This one can’t quite keep up with how much fun it’s predecessor was, but it’s certainly more than adequate, especially to see Hopkins, a man of trademark gravitas, give an out of left field (and his mind, really) turn worthy of Jim Carrey and not without a few disarming third act surprises.
Despite being somewhat neutered by the ever present annoyance of the PG-13 rating, Red is some of the most fun you can have with in the glib assassin subgenre of action comedy. Bold, hilarious and just a little bit demented, it jumps right off the pages of the graphic novel it was based on for just under two hours of wiseass popcorn movie nirvana, hosted by a cast that’s almost too good to be true. ‘RED’ stands for ‘Retired Extremely Dangerous’, a moniker given to aging ex contract killers who have laid down the guns, but are still closely watched by the CIA. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is one such person, languishing in the doldrums of forced retirement, bored out of his mind and chatting endlessly with a cutey call center girl (Mary Louise Parker). Things get freaky when deranged former associate Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) pays him a visit, belting out wild theories about the CIA sending operatives to terminate him. Before he knows it, Frank is swept up in espionage and intrigue once again, pursued by a slick, ruthless agency man (a deadly Karl Urban doing the anti-007 shtick nicely), with Parker in tow, whose terrified reactions to the escalating violence and deadpan sociopaths around her get funnier and funnier as the film progresses. Helen Mirren is regal gold as a well spoken ex MI6 spook who dissolves corpses in bathtubs full of acid, right before afternoon tea, I presume. Watching this dainty waif rock a Barrett 50 caliber and make red mist out of her enemies is one of the many mental pleasures one can get from this flick. Morgan Freeman takes it easy as another former buddy of theirs from the older, and I imagine, more agile days. As for the supporting cast, hell, take your pick. Richard Dreyfuss is a slimy Trump-esque politician lowlife, an underused James Remar shows up for a very brief cameo, as does that old toad Ernest Borgnine, Julian McMahon once again shows that no one wears a suit like Julian McMahan, and that lovable imp Brian Cox almost walks away with the film as a sly devil of a Russian agent who woos Mirren with the silver tongued virility of a fox. What works so well the dynamic between the three leads; Malkovich is mad as as hatter, Willis plays exasperated babysitter and Parker looks on in horror that starts to turn into amusement with every outlandish scenario. Action comedies are tricky recipes, and it’s easy to let too much of one ingredient slip into the pot. This one keeps a steady trigger finger that’s locked onto the funny bone and positively sails.