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.
The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.
Aylesworth passed away in Rancho Mirage, California on 28 July (10).
He performed on radio in his native Toronto as a child, and went on to find success on U.S. television.
Aylesworth was perhaps best known for co-creating 1970s American country music television variety show Hee Haw with Frank Peppiatt and Bernie Brillstein. The programme featured famous guests in country, gospel and bluegrass music, including Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty.
In addition, he served as a writer or producer on TV shows such as Your Hit Parade, The Kraft Music Hall, The Judy Garland Show and The Jonathan Winters Show.
He was also among the writers who shared an Emmy nomination for The Julie Andrews Hour in 1973 and The Sonny and Cher Show in 1976.
Aylesworth is survived by his fourth wife, Anita, two children from his first marriage, three from his second marriage, and one grandson.
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, the latest installment of George Lucas' sci-fi prequel trilogy, opens wide in U.S. theaters next week, but its creator won't be there to witness the pandemonium. The Associated Press reports that Lucas will be at the Cannes Film Festival instead, where the film will be screened using digital projectors rather than standard 35mm format.
Actress Julia Roberts took on a more serious role Thursday at a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee in Washington. Holding back tears, an emotional Roberts appealed for more money to research Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects about 200,000 girls and women worldwide, the AP reports.
Richard Gere's alleged stalker is being held on a $5,000 bail after being charged with stalking the actor, the AP reports. Ursula Reichert-Habbishaw of Kassell, Germany, was arraigned on charges of harassment, aggravated harassment and stalking after supposedly calling Gere as many as 1,000 times during the past year.
The new PlayStation 2 video game which features pop star Britney Spears is now available nationwide. In Britney's Dance Beat, players audition to be a backup dancer on the singer's virtual concert tour, gaining points along the way for each correct move.
Samuel L. Jackson has been cast as a Los Angeles police chief in Columbia Pictures' S.W.A.T., according to The Hollywood Reporter. In the film, Jackson leads a SWAT team that arrests a drug kingpin. Clark Johnson, who plays Detective Meldrick Lewis in the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, is in talks to direct.
Director Barry Levinson will direct Ben Stiller and Jack Black in the DreamWorks comedy Envy, Variety reports. The film's story line centers around two best pals whose friendship is tested when one of them (Black) becomes filthy rich by selling inventions, which causes the other (Stiller) to go crazy with envy.
In the Biz
On Thursday a federal judge threw out a lawsuit by the family of late fishing boat captain Frank William "Billy" Tyne Jr., who claimed the film The Perfect Storm depicted him in a false and unflattering light, the AP reports. Judge Anne C. Conway explained that the First Amendment protects the film, and the Supreme Court has given filmmakers broad leeway in portraying people and events.
The world's most infamous houseguest, Brian "Kato" Kaelin, has shot a pilot episode for a reality TV series entitled House Guest. Kaelin described the premise of the show to Barbara Walters on ABC's 20/20 Wednesday, saying he goes across America knocking on doors of unsuspecting families and invites himself to spend a weekend with them.
The concept was fun while it lasted, but former President Clinton said it is unlikely he will host a television talk show. In a National Public Radio interview scheduled to air Friday, Clinton, who met with NBC executives in Los Angeles last week to discuss the possibilities of a show, said he didn't think it was going to happen, the AP reports.
Ozzy Osbourne is on a roll. Following the success of MTV's hit reality series about his family, The Osbournes, getting his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and signing a book deal, the self proclaimed "bleeping Prince of Darkness" scored a Prism Award Thursday in Hollywood for his accurate depiction of drug, alcohol or tobacco addiction in his new single "Junkie," Variety reports.
Veteran Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel cleaned up at the annual Billboard Latin music awards Thursday night in Miami Beach, winning four out of his five nominations. Gabriel won awards for best songwriter, Latin track and Latin pop airplay track for his single "Abrazame Muy Fuerte." He also won the Latin vocal duo track award with compatriot Nydia Rojas for "No Vale la Pena, " Reuters reports.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.