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 Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the third and final installment in director Peter Jackson's fantasy epic, continued its reign at the box office with a cork-popping take of $51.2 million* over the holiday weekend. What's more, The Return of the King posted the best Christmas day gross ever, taking in $14.5 million on Dec. 25 alone. The film also crossed the $200 million mark after only 11 days, beating The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which took 12 days. That's definitely good news for New Line, whose Rings trilogy was a $300 million-plus make-or-break investment for the studio. Combined with the spirited take of four new wide releases, The Return of the King's strong legs also helped make this weekend the biggest Christmas weekend in box office history.The comedy Cheaper by the Dozen triumphed over rival newcomers hitting theaters this weekend, opening in second place with a generous three-day take of $28.2 million. The family comedy was followed by Cold Mountain, which debuted in the No. 3 position with nippy $14.5 million. Aided by its eight Golden Globe nominations and inclusion on many critics' Top 10 lists, the American Civil War drama is on a likely track for key Oscar nominations. Something's Gotta Give, now in its third week of release, placed fourth with $14.2 million, while the new Ben Affleck sci-fi thriller Paycheck, rounded out the Top Five with a foreseeable opening take of $13.9 million. The family pic Peter Pan, the last of this week's wide releases, kicked off in seventh place with a not-so-magical take of $11.4 million.Although this week's four new releases produced a combined first-day box office tally of almost $22 million, Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking service Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press Sunday the industry's total yearend box office revenues would likely fall short of last year's $9.3 billion record, marking the first year-to-year decline since 1991."The end of the year is looking pretty good," Dergarabedian said. "But not enough to jump ahead of last year's revenues ... because 2002 was so amazing."Last year, Hollywood benefited from an abundance of blockbusters, such as Spider-Man, Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the sleeper hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $168.6 million, up 26.39 percent from last weekend's $133.4 million take and up 8.18 percent from last year's $155.8 million.THE TOP TENNew Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King kept its No. 1 stronghold in its second week of release with an ESTIMATED $51.2 million (-29%) at 3,703 theaters (unchanged; $13,833 per theater). Its cume is approximately $223.6 million. Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated comedy Cheaper by the Dozen debuted in second place with $28.2 million in 3,298 theaters, with an $8,558 per theater average. In the film, a contemporary remake of the 1950 Walter Lang comedy based on the novel by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank B. Gilbreth, mayhem ensues as a couple moves their large family of 12 children from a small town to an affluent Chicago suburb.Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff and Tom Welling. Miramax Films' R rated Civil War drama Cold Mountain opened in third place with $14.5 million in 2,167 theaters with a $6,691 per theater average. In the film, a Confederate soldier makes the arduous journey from the front lines of the Civil War to his home in Cold Mountain, N.C., where his ladylove has been fighting battles of her own.Directed by Anthony Minghella, it stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger. Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give dropped one spot to fourth in its third week with an ESTIMATED $11.4 million (+24%) at 2,709 theaters (+32 theaters; $5,242 per theater). Its cume is approximately $56.3 million. Directed by Nancy Meyers, it stars Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand.Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated sci-fi thriller Paycheck kicked off in the No. 5 position with $13.9 million in 2,762 theaters with a $5,033 per theater average. In the film, a "reverse-engineer" who has had three years of his memory erased by a multimillion-dollar corporation, tries to piece together his past using a collection of random objects.Directed by John Woo, it stars Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman.*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated drama Mona Lisa Smile fell from its runner-up position last week to sixth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $11.5 million (unchanged) in 2,677 theaters (unchanged; $4,296 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.4 million.Directed by Mike Newell, it stars Julia Roberts, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles.Universal Pictures' PG rated family pic Peter Pan opened in seventh place with $11.4 million at 2,813 theaters with a $4,053 per theater average. In the film, based on the classic J.M. Barrie novel, the Darling family children receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Neverland where an ongoing war with the evil pirate Captain Hook is taking place.Directed by P.J. Hogan, it stars Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs and Ludivine Sagnier. Warner Bros.' R rated period actioner The Last Samurai, fell four spots to eighth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $8.3 million (+8%) in 2,557 theaters (-381; $3,273 per theater). Its cume is approximately $74.3 million.Directed by Edward Zwick, it stars Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Tony Goldwyn and Timothy Spall.Miramax Films' R rated dark comedy Bad Santa dropped two rungs to ninth place in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-11%) at 1,710 theaters (-515 theaters; $2,644 per theater). Its cume is approximately $50.9 million. Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf fell five places in its eighth week to round out the Top 10 with an ESTIMATED $4.2 million (-22%) at 2,015 theaters (-436 theaters; $2,122 per theater). Its cume is approximately $164.8 million. Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.OTHERSSony Picture Classics' PG-13 rated dance drama The Company debuted in 11 theaters with $96,939, with a $8,813 per theater average.The film centers on a Chicago ballet company--the difficult daily work, the intense pressures of performance and the richly textured behaviors of the dancers, whose professional and personal lives grow impossibly close.Directed by Robert Altman, it stars Neve Campbell, James Franco and Malcolm McDowell.New Market's R rated biopic Monster opened in four theaters with $84,156 with an impressive $21,039 per theater average. The dark tale is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, one of America's first female serial killers.Directed by Patty Jenkins, it stars Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci.WEEKEND COMPARISON Last year, New Line's PG-13 rated The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came in at No. 1 in its second week with $48.8 million in 3,622 theaters (unchanged; $13,494 per theater); DreamWorks' biopic Catch Me If You Can opened in second place with $30 million 3,156 theaters ($9,523 per theater); Warner Brothers' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice followed in third place in its second week of release with $15.5 million in 2,755 theaters (unchanged; $5,633 per theater).
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all...hell is about to break loose! It starts when a snowstorm grounds all planes at Chicago’s fictional Hoover International Airport. Nobody’s happy to be potentially spending Xmas at an airport but least of all are the Davenport siblings Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) and his little sis Katherine (Dominique Saldana) as well as airport security boss Oliver (Lewis Black). The two kids are escorted to the airport’s “Unaccompanied Minors Lounge ” where kids run wild and terrorize pushover Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama) who acts as chief airport babysitter. One look at the madness is all it takes for Spencer and Katherine to bust out along with fellow kiddie anarchists Charlie (Tyler James Williams) Timothy (Brett Kelly) Donna (Quinn Shephard) and Grace (Gina Mantegna). They embark on a pratfall-heavy game of cat and mouse with Oliver who is the Grinch to their collective Santa Clause as they try and salvage Christmas--and their families. Unaccompanied Minors makes some odd but admirable choices when it comes to the cast with virtually every single actor attempting a “Frat Pack” mutiny--Daily Show mainstay Black is joined by “correspondent” Rob Corddry as the Davenports’ Hummer-hating dad not to mention parts from The Office’s B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling Arrested Development’s Tony Hale and Jessica Walter SNL’s Rob Riggle and Kristen Wiig Paget Brewster David Koechner and a rare Kids in the friggin’ Hall (Kevin McDonald Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney) sighting. But the “Who’s that?” cameos aside the screen time is hogged by Black Valderrama and the children. Black the notoriously vulgar curmudgeon of a comedian shows great range and skill by dulling his shtick down but not so much that the kids watching won’t crack up while Valderrama’s performance is the same as his role--that of a bumbling easily overmatched lackey. With all the proverbial child actors in the mix it can seem a little Star Search-y but Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) steals most scenes with his amazing overall talent while Mantegna (Joe’s daughter) fares well too. Kelly (the bullied kid in Bad Santa) is exploited for his physicality and Christopher will likely go on to be a great actor even if he seems too seasoned at such a young age. The reason for the off-the-beaten-path cast is simple: director Paul Feig. The occasional actor has in the past directed episodes of The Office and the late Arrested Development Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks. It also might explain why he fell for a script--by Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark--that takes a few stabs at grown-up comedy (i.e. Corddry’s character has a car that runs on vegetable oil). Such jokes will be lost on the exclusively preadolescent audience but almost all else will reel them in. Feig also seems adept at making the oft-unfunny (physical pratfalls) somewhat funny and he does so with little mention of bodily functions. Of course he stays true to the formula but all kid flicks are the ultimate exercises in contrivance--Feig just chooses to treat the viewers like kids instead of idiots.
The 3rd Annual Latin Grammy® Awards will be held on September 18, 2002 and be broadcast domestically by the CBS Television Network, it was announced Thursday by Recording Academy® and Latin Recording Academy® President/CEO Michael Greene.
The show--which will feature performances from some of the genre's biggest artists--will originate from Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, Calif. The Latin Recording Academy also has added two new award categories this year, Best Contemporary Tropical Album, and Best Christian Album, bringing the total to 41 categories. Nominations for the Latin Grammy Awards are expected to be announced in July.
"Along with the world, the Latin Recording Academy has had a year that's tested its perseverance, as well as its dedication to celebrating music as passionately as it has since LARAS first started three years ago," said Greene.
"From coming together to raise funds for New York rescue workers just three days after their own show had to be cancelled, to working diligently to stay relevant by adding two more award categories, the steadfast membership of almost 4,000 music makers from all over the world has a new sense of unity and purpose--to let the world know the 3rd Annual Latin Grammy Awards will be a spectacular worldwide celebration!
"We thank Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Tim Leiweke and the folks at Kodak Theatre, and our terrific partners at CBS--especially Leslie Moonves--for helping to ensure that the Latin Grammy Awards will be a truly amazing, meaningful event for our nominees, members and our audience."
"Los Angeles was the birthplace of the Latin Grammys, and I look forward to continuing to host the event in this great city, best known as the entertainment capital of the world," said Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn.
The 3rd Annual Latin Grammy Awards will be broadcast domestically by CBS from 9-11 p.m. (ET/PT). The network also will distribute the show internationally through CBS Broadcast International, providing the show to an estimated 120 countries. The 1st Annual Latin Grammy Awards marked the first time a largely Spanish-language program was aired in prime time in the U.S., and its successful reach, prestige value and unique musical content was a powerful addition to the network's offerings.
"It once again is our privilege to broadcast the Latin Grammy Awards," said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS.
"This event reaffirms our commitment to the Latin Recording Academy, to diversity and to the best in entertainment programming. After the tragic events of last year which forced us to cancel the Latin Grammy broadcast, we are thrilled to be back with another show featuring some of the world's most exciting music and performers."
"Kodak Theatre, one of America's premier showplaces and Hollywood's newest attraction, truly is the perfect showplace for an important and prestigious awards show such as the Latin Grammys," said Timothy J. Leiweke, President, AEG, which operates Kodak Theatre. "The intimacy of the theater--as well as the spectacular sight lines and sound--will make this an incredible evening of music for our guests and the worldwide audience."
The 3rd Annual Latin Grammy Awards is a Recording Academy event produced in association with Cossette Productions. Pierre and John Cossette are executive producers; Ken Ehrlich is producer/writer; Walter Miller is producer/director; and Tisha Fein is coordinating producer.