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.
Meeting the Crazy Eights cast we have: Brent (Frank Whaley) an obnoxious self-obsessed nerd; Beth (Gabrielle Anwar) a troubled freakish girl; Gina (Traci Lords) a sexy carefree bimbo; Jennifer (Dina Meyer) a smart sensible girl; and Wayne (Dan DeLuca) the cool handsome guy who all get together when they receive an invitation to the funeral of an old friend. They were brought together for more nefarious reasons however which are revealed when they unearth a trunk that contains a time capsule of items buried two decades ago. The trunk also contains the body of a girl and it's that girl's spirit that ends up haunting them all. A kind of treasure map in the trunk leads them to a barn which in turn guides them to a tunnel to a creepy abandoned hospital. It's there at the hospital where their collective memories recreate what happened to the little girl and why they were really brought together for this funeral-and future funerals to come. The bottom line to this story is: The past never leaves you. In the 8 Films to Die For series of this year's Horrorfest 2007 Crazy Eights definitely contains the most recognizable cast—and it’s hard to remember a low-budget B horror film with a more noteworthy cast including Whaley (Pulp Fiction) Meyer (the Saw series) Gabrielle Anwar (Body Snatchers) DeLuca (HBO’s The Wire) and former porn star Lords. Sure some of the characters are cookie-cutter stereotypes from a typical horror ensemble piece but Whaley plays the jerk well and Lords is practically good at being typecast. DeLuca is also Crazy Eights producer and co-writer and most likely gave himself as the juicier part. He could become a credible leading man in his own right. DeLuca co-wrote the film with horror veteran James Koya Jones and additional rewrites by Ji-un Kown and Patrick Moses and they may have added a few of the twists and turns in the plot but nothing is outstandingly different. The special effects aren't too elaborate and thankfully most of the goriest death scenes are done just off screen and left more to the imagination. The looming abandoned hospital is used to a great extent and allows for some of the best surprise shocks. It's big creepy and haunting and is practically one of the scariest things in the film. And of course any time there's a ghostly little girl you’ve got some chills. Crazy Eights is a keeper.
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.