Tag Archives: Tom Wilkinson

Ham, Corn or Cheese

‘The Choice’ is a sappy Southern buffet for the Nicholas Sparks faithful

The Choice

Starring Benjamin Walker & Teresa Palmer

Directed by Ross Katz

PG-13

Hokey, sappy and awash with clichés, The Choice nonetheless serves up exactly what audiences want when they strap on a Nicholas Sparks feedbag.

Movies from Sparks’ books (Message in a Bottle, Safe Haven, The Notebook, The Lucky One, Dear John) have featured big stars (Ryan Gosling, Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, Channing Tatum, Julianne Hough, Rachel McAdams) and grossed close to $900 million. Clearly, they’ve found their niche and their audience.

The 12th movie based on a novel by the prolific author, The Choice stars Benjamin Walker from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as Travis, a drawly, smooth-talking, Southern-gent ladies’ man. Travis can charm just about any female—except his spunky new next-door neighbor, Gabby (Teresa Palmer, star of Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four and Point Break).

Travis and his dad (British actor Tom Wilkinson) are the local veterinarians, and Gabby is a nurse at the hospital, where she’s dating a hunky physician (Tom Welling, Superman in TV’s Smallville). Everyone in The Choice is white-collar and gainfully employed, and neither people nor pets seem to worry about health care in its quaint, peaceful, picture-perfect coastal North Carolina town (a favorite Sparks setting).

Everyone thinks Travis and Gabby should be a couple, especially Travis’ sister (Maggie Grace). This line of thought gains considerable traction when Gabby’s boyfriend packs up his stethoscope and goes out of town on a business trip—how convenient! Travis takes Gabby out on his boat and takes off his shirt, and Gabby shows off her rockin’ bikini bod. They splash and flirt. Gabby invites Travis over for dinner, they talk about the moon and the stars and God, and before you can say, “Hold on to your croutons,” there’s salad on the floor and bump and grinding on top of the kitchen table.

Director Ross Katz, making his mainstream feature debut after working his way up the filmmaking ladder, certainly tries to make the most of everything he’s got. He gives his two leads, Walker and Palmer, plenty of gorgeous, golden-glow close-ups. He reminds us that that time is precious and fleeting by showing us—repeatedly—shots of the tide. There’s old-time religion, new-age mysticism, a box full of puppies, a hurricane, a beach party, a festive birthday celebration, a wrenching hospital vigil, an emotional cemetery visit and a soliloquy on the significance of a chair.

When Gabby and Travis first meet, his backyard cookout has disturbed her studying for nursing exams. So it begins and so it goes: He “bothers” her, she “bothers” him, they draw closer and closer, and eventually “bother” becomes an all-purpose romantic shorthand. “Baby, bother me!” Travis breathlessly implores as he cradles Gabby later in the movie.

It’s mushy and gushy and gooey, but hey, that’s Nicholas Sparks. And if you’ve seen the trailer for The Choice, you know “the choice” refers to something that comes to involve a major, do-or-die decision.

“The secret to life is all about decisions,” says Travis. “Every path you take leads to another choice.”

The Choice offers a choice, all right—do you prefer your Southern-style canned corn with extra ham, double cheese or a heaping helping of buttered schmaltz?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Marching Across Time

‘Selma’ connects past and present at pivotal civil rights flashpoint

SELMA

David Oyelowo (second from left) stars as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in ‘Selma’

Selma

Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo & Tom Wilkinson

Directed by Ava DuVernay

PG-13

It depicts events that happened half a century ago, but the drumbeat—and the heartbeat—of the present pounds loud and clear in Selma.

Set in the weeks leading up to March 1965, it’s a moving, powerful portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King and his passionate work to turn back the toxic tide of segregation and discrimination against African-Americans, especially in the South.

British actor David Oyelowo does a phenomenal job as King, conveying the combustive cocktail of faith, focus, outrage, diplomacy and drive that fueled his mission leading up to the “peaceful protest” marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to bring national attention to voting rights. His King is no martyred saint, but a charismatic, pragmatic leader who can take sit-down meetings with the President in the White House, as well as a husband, father and family man trying to keep his own “house” from crumbling from pressures inside and out.

SELMA

Carmen Ejogo plays King’s wife, Coretta.

A scene in which King’s wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, also terrific), confronts him over his well-known infidelities is a masterfully staged, perfectly written and expertly performed moment in which the silence becomes as important as—and even more weighty than—the words.

SELMA

Oprah Winfrey plays a civil rights activist.

The protests at the heart of the movie may have been “nonviolent,” but the event that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, March 7, was an episode of horrific, horrendous brutality, as hundreds of marchers were attacked by state and local police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with tear gas, clubs wrapped in barbed wire, and horsewhips. Director Ava DuVernay, a former Hollywood publicist who worked her way up through the studio system via music documentaries and indie films, depicts the one-sided confrontation as a melee of swirling smoke, raining blows, sickening thuds and crumbling bodies.

King is the movie’s central figure, but note that it doesn’t bear his name. It’s about more than the man; it’s about the movement he inspired. And specifically, it’s about how the crucial flashpoint of that movement came at one moment in time, in one specific place, and that place was Selma.

And, appropriately, there’s a big supporting cast that helps get it there, including Tom Wilkinson as Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson; Tim Roth as Alabama Gov. George Wallace; Oprah Winfrey as activist Annie Lee Cooper; Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover; Ledici Young as gospel singer Mahalia Jackson; and numerous other actors, including Martin Sheen, rapper Common, Stephen Root, Niecy Nash, Cuba Gooding Jr., Giovanni Ribisi, Andrè Holland, Stephan James and Wendell Pierce, portraying other real-life players in the drama.

SELMA

King meets in the White House with Pres. Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson).

The filmmakers didn’t have access to King’s archive of speeches, so his orations are paraphrased—to magnificent effect. And there have been questions and quibbles about the movie’s authenticity and precise historical accuracy, especially about its portrayal of King’s relationship with L.B.J. But leave the parsing of small details to small minds. As the 50th anniversary of the events depicted in Selma approaches, this big-issue movie—with policemen beating and killing unarmed black men, streets filled with peaceful protesters, and repressive voting laws that disenfranchise minorities—feels chillingly contemporary, all too real, and monumental in more ways than one. Selma profoundly reminds us that while the marching may lead to the mountaintop, we still, sadly, haven’t fully made it there yet.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

GHB_7195 20130213.CR2

Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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