Hopkins Ditches Wife for Hooker; Hostage Buried Alive: Movies

Anthony Hopkins wears a lot of white and cream-colored outfits in Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” They don’t symbolize purity.

Hopkins’s Alfie is a wealthy Londoner who abruptly ends his 40-year marriage to Helena (Gemma Jones) to cavort with a leggy, dimwitted call girl (Lucy Punch). He becomes a fitness buff, whitens his teeth and frequents a tanning salon, all in a desperate attempt to relive his youth.

Alfie’s daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) also is experiencing romantic wanderlust. Married to a struggling novelist (Josh Brolin) who pines for a gorgeous, guitar-playing neighbor (Freida Pinto), Sally develops her own crush -- on her debonair, art-gallery boss (Antonio Banderas).

An older man falling in love with a younger woman isn’t exactly groundbreaking material for Allen. Neither are the other shopworn themes of angst, betrayal, death and beauty.

Despite its sterling cast, “Stranger” is a middling romantic comedy with a disjointed plot. Switching his milieu from Manhattan to London, the setting for four of his last six films, seemed to energize Allen for a while. But he’s trod this ground too many times -- and in much better movies.

Fortune Teller

While the two disintegrating marriages are the film’s focus, the most interesting pairing is Helena and her quack psychic (Pauline Collins), who offers solace to her lonely, suicidal client with fortune-cookie advice. Their sessions -- and Brolin’s cynical reactions to them -- provide the comic highlights.

Jones, best known to movie audiences as Madam Poppy Pomfrey in the Harry Potter series, steals scenes as the discarded spouse whose rebound fling with a recent widower includes a seance where he asks his late wife for permission to remarry. Punch, who got the hooker role when Nicole Kidman withdrew because of a scheduling conflict, is hilariously loopy as the blond gold-digger.

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” from Sony Pictures Classics,” opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2

‘Buried’

Paul Conroy is buried alive, squeezed into a small wooden coffin somewhere in Iraq by kidnappers who ambushed the supply truck he was driving for an independent contractor. All he’s got is a mobile phone with a fast-draining battery, a cigarette lighter, a flashlight and a pen he uses to write names and phone numbers on the inside of the coffin lid.

This is the setting for all 94 terrifying, claustrophobic minutes of “Buried,” a masterful thriller directed by Rodrigo Cortes and featuring a virtuoso solo performance by Ryan Reynolds. Cortes and Reynolds keep you glued to the screen, even though it’s dark, the dialogue is minimal and the movement is almost non-existent.

Conroy wakes up in the coffin with no memory of how he got there following the attack that killed several of his colleagues. The money-seeking kidnappers leave him with the phone, which he uses to call his wife, his company and the FBI. He keeps getting the answering machine at his home, runs into a bureaucratic wall at his company and gets little help from authorities until he’s transferred to a hostage specialist at the State Department.

The tension mounts as Conroy’s air supply dwindles and sand begins seeping into the coffin, threatening to smother him. He wheezes, coughs, curses and fends off a snake that slithers through a hole in the box. With the deadline approaching to meet the ransom, he has a chilling conversation with his company’s personnel director, who has the bedside manner of a serial killer.

The ending is shocking and bound to give you nightmares.

“Buried,” from Lions Gate, opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. Rating: ***1/2

‘Waiting for Superman’

While the U.S. is preoccupied with terrorism, the listless economy and Lindsay Lohan’s latest rehab, another problem may loom larger in the long run: the decline of America’s once pre- eminent public education system.

That’s the message of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Guggenheim, along with Al Gore, sounded an alarm over global warming in “An Inconvenient Truth.” Now he’s doing the same for American schools.

The film includes stats, charts and talking heads such as crusading reformer Geoffrey Canada, teachers union leader Randi Weingarten (portrayed as the villain because she opposes stricter teacher evaluations) and Bill Gates, whose foundation has made improving public education one of its priorities.

The U.S. is ranked near the bottom among 30 developed countries in math and science, even though per-student spending has doubled over the last 40 years. Nothing illustrates the problem better than Guggenheim’s vignettes of students from neighborhoods with horrible public schools. They enter lotteries to get into vastly superior charter schools, but there are so few openings that the odds are stacked against them.

The quality of education shouldn’t depend on where a child lives or a lucky number. America can’t afford that gamble.

“Waiting for Superman,” from Paramount Vantage, opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles: Rating: ***


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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