Fellow fans of the original Star Tours at Disney’s MGM Studios, rejoice! Our favorite old motion simulator got a big, big shout-out in an episode that continues Clone Wars’ impressive winning streak. For my Republic credits, every single episode this season has been a hit. No narrative flab, no filler, just good old solid storytelling. But “A Sunny Day in the Void,” scripted by yarnmaster Brent Friedman, went beyond just entertaining us. This was a truly experimental installment, with supervising director Dave Filoni paying tribute to one of his artistic inspirations, French comics artist Jean Giraud, a.k.a Mœbius.
Other than Tintin creator Hergé, Mœbius, who died this March at the age of 73, may be the best known artist of French/Belgian comics, or bandes dessinées (literally “drawn strips”). He got his start primarily drawing Westerns, like the classic Blueberry series, which serves as a kind of comic strip analogue to Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah’s gritty meta-Westerns. Later on he’d branch out into sci-fi and his series The Incal, co-authored with El Topo director Alejandro Jodorowski, is a foundation text of what we’ve come to know as the dystopian future cityscape, elements of which made their way into concept art he drew and painted for the films Alien and Tron. He was also tapped by George Lucas to contribute designs to Willow and The Empire Strikes Back, where his concept for the Imperial probe droid made it into the film. Mœbius recognized that hyper-detail can be a stepping stone toward surrealism, and though there’s often a stark minimalism in his compositions, his is a textured world simultaneously familiar and alien. Those contrasts are exactly what Filoni & Co. captured in “A Sunny Day in the Void,” with their realization of a bleakly sunny—or sunnily bleak—desert wasteland planet.
But the droids had to get there first! Our heroic, though height-challenged, Col. Gascon (voice magnificently by Stephen Stanton) was puffing out his chest in pride over his successful mission to recover the Separatist encryption module from that Seppie dreadnaught. All that was left was to fly back to the Republic. What little respect he did decide to grant the droids at the conclusion of “Secret Weapons” had seemed to evaporate, however. “How long until my command center is operational again?” he asked, blithely ignoring the fact that his command center, BZ, had been pretty well fried. Gascon just can’t seem to recognize the droids as more than hardware. When Artoo tootled in BZ’s defense, I assume he said, “His name is BZ and he’s a person!”
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.
Producers of the short film, Woineshet, asked Tomei if she'd like to take charge of the project at the last minute after the original director pulled out.
The actress took a huge leap of faith and found herself in Africa days later, interviewing Woineshet Zebene - the subject of the film - and casting local actors.
Tomei tells WENN, "It was a narrative 15-minute short that just kind of came up, spur of the moment... Someone else was supposed to direct it and they dropped out at the last minute, and I happen to know the people who are producing and they were like, 'Do you want to go to Africa on Tuesday and make your directorial debut?'
"I was like, 'Can I bring Lisa Leone', my dear friend who is a cinematographer and who also directed her own shorts? We co-directed and we went to Ethiopia and we met Woineshet.
"She was kidnapped and raped when she was 13 and then fought to change the laws in the whole country. Now she's 21 and, in less than 10 years, she has taken on a codified patriarchal system and made it different for everybody in the whole country. It's a piece of her story."
Tomei admits she's glad the project just happened - because if she'd had time to think about it, she would probably have turned it down.
She adds, "It was quite a crazy thing and I think I only could've done it spontaneously. I mean it's (film) in another language, which I don't speak, and I got there and had to cast within days with no script. This wasn't even the movie they were going to do.
"When I got there Woineshet had just gotten the head of the whole African conglomeration's personal phone number and was calling him and insisting he speak with her to make further changes. It was such a humbling experience and I'm grateful to her for what she's done for everybody and to see that perseverance. If I'm asked, I would do it again."
Tomei and Leone's short film will debut on public broadcast television in America later this year (10) as part of a series of movies based on New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and his partner Sheryl Wudunn's book Half The Sky, which chronicles injustices in the Third World.