The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
New York's famed Chelsea Hotel is crawling with an assortment of creative types and wannabes whose lives are in disarray. These include tortured writer Bud (Kris Kristofferson) who has beaten the bottle but not the blues brought on by love continually going bad. Former paramours Mary (Natasha Richardson) wife Greta (Tuesday Weld) and waitress Grace (Uma Thurman) could cure his terminal loneliness but won't. Other Chelsea residents not faring much better are prolific poetess Audrey (Rosario Dawson) struggling painter Frank (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Crutches (Kevin Corrigan) a druggie hanger-on appropriately on crutches. Also helping support the Chelsea Hotel's rep as a magnet for misfits are out-of-town musicians Terry (Robert Sean Leonard) and Ross (Steve Zahn) who like their company very young. There's also Lynny (Frank Whaley) who does wobbly stand-up at the local club.
It's hard to fault talented actors who have so little to work with. But such seasoned talents as Richardson Thurman D'Onofrio and Zahn deserve better. At least Kristofferson as the tortured writer rings some emotional if familiar truths as does Weld his unlucky wife. These are two vets worth a detour to the Chelsea.
Oscar-nominated actor-turned-director Ethan Hawke has surrounded himself with many of his gifted thesp friends for his directorial debut. But all this directing and acting talent is no match for playwright/screenwriter Nicole Burdette's pretentious messy riff on the iconoclastic Chelsea characters and their questionable art. Hawke counters the mostly verbal tedium with seemingly random cross-cutting among the quirky Chelsea wannabes. Technically "Chelsea Walls" advertises some of digital video's shortcomings like graininess and a resistance to reds. But Hawke also exploits the medium for its strengths--spontaneity funkiness and intimacy. Hawke another wide-eyed filmmaker entertaining himself with wonderful digital toys forgets that he also has to entertain an audience.
Catherine Zeta-Jones knows how important trust is.
The new Mrs. Michael Douglas will star in the thriller "Trust," a project that is said by Daily Variety to be in the vein of 1987's "Fatal Attraction."
Originally a British miniseries, "Trust" will follow a lawyer living in New York who discovers that her psychiatrist hubby is having an affair with one of his patients.
KING OF THE 'CASTLE': "The Legend of Bagger Vance" helmer and actor Robert Redford might return to the front of the camera in "The Castle," a drama directed by "The Contender's" Rod Lurie, Variety says.
The project, which centers on an imprisoned five-star general as he rallies other prisoners into a mutiny, is also in discussions with Mark Wahlberg for a co-starring role.
'SHOW' TIME: Variety also says that Ethan Hawke, Carla Gugino and Frank Whaley have all signed on to the indie flick "The Jimmy Show," about a New Jersey guy who embarks on a doomed career in stand-up comedy.
Hawke's last screen role was in last year's "Hamlet" with Julia Stiles.
'BARK' IF YOU'RE HAPPY: Lisa Kudrow, Hank Azaria and Vincent D'Onofrio will star in the romantic comedy "Bark," Variety tells us. The film is about a young woman who has a nervous breakdown and believes that she's a dog.
'GUEST' LIST: "That '70s Show" dude Ashton Kutcher might star in the film "The Guest," The Hollywood Reporter says.
Kutcher -- who will be seen in the upcoming "Dude, Where's My Car?" alongside "Road Trip's" Seann William Scott -- would play a guy who tries to woo the daughter of his boss in the new project.
SHALL WE 'DANCE': James Coburn might join Cuba Gooding Jr. in the adventure pic "Winterdance," the Reporter informs. Based on the 1994 novel by Gary Paulsen, the story is an autobiographical account of the writer's participation in a gruesome dogsled race in Alaska.
Gooding will play the part of the dogsled racer and Coburn would play his estranged father.
LAST ROUND: Mykelti Williamson might play boxing promoter Don King in the "Ali" biopic, the Reporter says. The project stars Will Smith as the titular boxer and is expected to go into production next month.