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.
In multicultural L.A. different households put their own spin on Turkey Day chaos: An African-American mom (Alfre Woodard) deals with her stubborn husband (Dennis Haysbert) nosy mother-in-law (Ann Weldon) and other irritants. Vietnamese immigrants (Joan Chen Francois Chau) worry that they've become alienated from their Americanized kids. A Latina matriarch (Mercedes Ruehl) faces the unwelcome return of her prodigal husband (Victor Rivers). Old-fashioned Jewish parents (Lainie Kazan Maury Chaykin) fret over a visit from their daughter (Kyra Sedgwick) and her irreverent lesbian lover (Julianna Margulies).
With substantial parts for more than a dozen actors in its diverse cast "What's Cooking?" has first-class character players spilling out of the cupboards. Ruehl criminally underused by Hollywood since her Oscar for 1991's "The Fisher King " is a stand-out delight in the juiciest of the four central mom roles. The Kazan-Chaykin-Sedgwick-Margulies team is particularly on target working the comedy in the Jewish quarter of the story.
Anglo-Indian director Gurinder Chadha ("Bhaji on the Beach") pulls off the challenging feat of weaving her mostly unrelated plotlines together without losing narrative tension - a factor that has shot down many a similarly ambitious ensemble drama. At first the modest family-movie scenarios seem to be heading in a hopelessly feel-good Hallmark Hall of Fame direction but the script (by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges) starts to cook with some zinger plot twists in the second act. And the multistory format so often an arbitrary device in such films actually serves a thematic purpose in this case - though you'll have to wait for the cleverly set-up ending to find out what it is.
Spider-Man 2 sets DVD release date
Fans anxious to get their hands on the Spider-Man 2 DVD will have to wait a bit longer than they did for the original Spider-Man's home release. Variety reported Thursday that Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is releasing Spider-Man 2 to DVD Nov. 30--a month later than the release of the original, back in 2002. Columbia is hoping to curb the problem it had two years ago when it shipped millions more Spider-Man DVDs than actually sold. The November release date also means Columbia can focus their attention on the Seinfield series DVD set, which will be released just before Thanksgiving. Fans will also be able to purchase a two-pack with DVDs of both Spider-Man movies for $39.95. The first DVD edition of Spider-Man 2, however, will have 10 hours' worth of bonus features and commentaries.
Publicist Lizzie Grubman gets reality show
MTV is launching a reality show starring infamous publicist-to-the-stars Lizzie Grubman, who is better know for serving 37 days in jail backing her sport utility vehicle into a crowd of Hamptons clubgoers three years ago. PoweR Girls will follow Grubman and her public relations team behind the velvet rope as they live, work and play in Manhattan, Los Angeles, the Hamptons and Miami, the AP reports. The series, picked up for six episodes, will premiere in spring 2005. "I'm looking forward to MTV viewers seeing the hard work and long hours it takes to run your own business," Grubman said in a statement Wednesday. According to her Web site, her celebrity clients include Britney Spears, Russell Simmons, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Gloria Estefan.
Regis Philbin sets world record
Regis Philbin has set a world record for the most hours logged on television, the AP reports. Friday's broadcast of Live with Regis and Kelly gives Philbin 15,188 hours on the tube-giving him the Guinness World Record for most hours on camera. According to Guinness World Records researcher Stuart Claxton, that's more than broadcaster Hugh Downs. "Now it's all a big blur," Philbin told the AP Thursday as he looked back on his career that began as a San Diego news anchor in 1958. "When you look back that's a lot of hours on TV." Philbin, 72, has hosted the nationally syndicated Live in all 16 of its seasons--previously with Kathy Lee Gifford and now with Kelly Ripa. In his 46-year career, Philbin has hosted numerous news and entertainment shows, including the hit prime-time ABC game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
Autographed guitars auctioned to help Charley victims
Clear Channel Communications Inc. is auctioning off guitars autographed by musicians such as Britney Spears,Tom Petty and Kenny Rogers to raise money for Hurricane Charley victims in Florida, the AP reports. The radio giant said the online auction of 43 guitars signed by celebrities started Thursday and will end Sept. 20. All proceeds will be split between displaced families and the American Red Cross. Linkin Park, Stone Temple Pilots, Nickelback, ZZ Top, Tim McGraw and Shakira are also participating in the auction, which also includes a non-musical with instruments signed by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and comedian Mike Myers. The guitars are being offered on Clear Channel's StormAid.com Web site.
Sheryl Crow joins Vote for Change tour
Sheryl Crow, Jack Johnson and Crosby, Stills & Nash have joined the willing-to-rock coalition of musicians trying to unseat President Bush in November. Crow and the rest were added to the Vote for Change tour, which boasts a lineup of nearly 20 artists including Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band. Concert promoters told the AP Thursday the musicians will perform at some 38 shows in 32 cities in election swing states over the course of 12 days in October. Money generated from the concerts will go to America Coming Together (ACT), which promises on its Web site to "derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush." The shows will be presented by MoveOn PAC, the electoral arm of the liberal interest group MoveOn.org.
N.C. governor declares Saturday Fantasia Barrino day
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has proclaimed Saturday as Fantasia Barrino Day to mark the day she makes her first major singing appearance in her home state since winning the American Idol crown in May, the AP reports. Barrino is "a true testament to what happens when you put your heart and soul into your dream," Easley said in a statement, adding the singer "has shown through her amazing talent and larger-than-life personality that goodness does really grow right here in North Carolina." Barrino, who is of High Point, will perform in Winston-Salem with fellow American Idol contestants Saturday night, on the American Idols Tour 2004.
Neverland manager testifies in pretrial hearing
The property manager of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch testified Friday that sheriff's deputies last year searched areas of the estate not specified in a warrant, The Associated Press reports. The testimony came at a pretrial hearing in which defense attorneys are trying to limit the evidence prosecutors can produce at Jackson's Jan. 31 trial. During the hearing, Joseph Marcus testified he initially cooperated when the horde of investigators arrived but objected when officers wanted to search areas that were not on the warrant. He said a deputy told him he would call and have the search warrant amended, but Marcus said that was not done as far as he knows, and the search went ahead anyway. Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded innocent and is free on $3 million bail.
Private eye testifies in Blake case
A 70-year-old private investigator is expected to testify before Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp on Friday--months ahead of time in Robert Blake's murder trial, the AP reports. The request was made by prosecutors who said that because of his age, William Jordan may be unavailable at the time of the trial, the AP reports. The Baretta star is charged with killing his 44-year-old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in 2001. She was found shot to death in their car outside a restaurant where they had just eaten. Blake hired Jordan in September 2000, in anticipation of child custody proceedings and according to phone records included in court filings, spoke with the private eye frequently up to the time of Bakley's murder. The trial is now scheduled to start Nov. 1. Blake, meanwhile, is free on $1.5 million bail but remains under house arrest.
"Stuart Little" made its grand debut at the Village Theatre in Westwood on Dec. 5.
Academy Award winner Geena Davis, Jonathan Lipnicki ("Jerry Maguire"), Nathan Lane ("The Birdcage") and others strolled down the red carpet in honor of "Stuart Little" while benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
"It's a terrific event for us," said John Calley, the event chairman for the diabetes foundation. "It helps us in two important ways: One, of course, is the awareness of diabetes and the other is that it's a substantial amount of money being raised for diabetes today."
Director Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King") brings the comedic adventure of a little mouse searching for a real home to the big screen. The film is based on the classic book by E.B. White.
"It's about someone (Stuart Little) who is different and searching for a family," said Lane. "I play Snowbell, like the Swedish prize. Snowbell the cat, who is very threatened by Stuart being adopted, so he plots to get rid of him."
Stuart Little (voiced by "Spin City's" Michael J. Fox) embarks on a grand adventure after being adopted by the Littles, a human family played by Davis, Lipnicki and Hugh Laurie.
"I got involved five years ago," said producer Doug Wick. "Columbia Pictures owned the book. It took a few years to get the script right.
"And then we had to start doing research and development because the technology didn't exist until 10 minutes before we started shooting."
The technical aspects of filming didn't really concern Dustin Hoffman, Meg Tilly, Mimi Rogers, Leah Thompson and other celebrities who just wanted to check out a family classic with their families.
Even former first lady Nancy Reagan, who is also a benefit committee chairwoman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, joined in the "Stuart Little" fun.
"It's great. I went from my last film playing an assassin -- now I'm mother of a mouse," said Davis.
With Leeza Gibbons, Debra Farantino and singer Trisha Yearwood at the premiere, the only question was: "Where's the 'big cheese'"?
At the premiere, the biggest mouse since Mickey and Mighty was nowhere to be spotted.
"Some of the challenge during filming was that he (Stuart Little) wasn't there. It's funny, he never showed up to the set," joked Davis.
"Stuart Little" opens in theaters Dec. 17.