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 God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Backstage, Best Actress winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) gushed, "It's just dawning on me now that I've won an Oscar. It's just starting to sink in. Oh my God...And as someone who's been nominated before, I can tell you winning is really a lot better than losing. Really a lot better."
When a gossip columnist insisted Winslet give an answer for who she would pass the nude-scene torch to, she took some time and then replied with a glint in her eye, "Susan Sarandon."
Following are select remarks from other Sunday night winners:
Best Actor Sean Penn (Milk):
Remarking on the protesters outside the Kodak Theater, Penn said, "I'd tell 'em to turn in their hate card and find their better self...It's very sad in a way, because it's a demonstration of such cowardice, emotional cowardice, to be so afraid of extending the same rights to your fellow man as you would want for yourself."
Penn also extended his tribute to fellow nominee Mickey Rourke as "someone I've alternatively looked up to and advised," adding that Rourke "quite literally had me almost throughout 'The Wrestler' weeping."
"I've known Mickey for over 25 years. He's an excellent bridge burner at times, but we've had for the most part a very close friendship. Comebacks are funny, and we talk about it with him, but everyone in this room has to make a comeback every day. Life is tough. What I think is sensational about (Mickey) is that he's simply one of the great poetic talents in acting."
Bset Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire):
"You see Heath Ledger's work acknowledged in The Dark Knight, and it is extraordinary work. But like virtually everybody, Heath started small, he started in small films. Everybody does, and we've got to protect them. The first film I made cost a million pounds, and that's where you learn your craft. And you don't know what you're doing - and I'm a big fan of keeping it that way."
Slumdog producer Christian Colson:
"Even the studios will take note that we made this for 7 million pounds. It's gonna cross $100 million in the US Tuesday or Wednesday. That's good business for them."
Supporting Actor Heath Ledger's family (The Dark Knight):
Ledger's father said the statuette will go to the actor's daughter with Michelle Williams, Matilda, when she turns 18. "Michelle will make the decisions here, when it's appropriate to celebrate this kind of thing, when she'll be at an age when she can celebrate it."
Ledger's mother remarked, "Just to look at Matilda, she's totally like her daddy. She has the same mannerisms. I really feel he's in her."
Original Screenplay winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk):
Winning for Black was "sort of an out-of-body thing...I don't believe it yet. Maybe when I see my mom in a few minutes."
Choking up, he said he didn't have his speech planned in full. "My whole thing was just to pay it forward. Harvey (Milk) gave me his story and it saved my life. My whole thing was to tell those kids out there that they'll be alright."
Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona):
Acknowledging that before her recent success, she had to weather a lot of criticism, particularly of her Spanish-accented English, Cruz said, "You have to keep climbing mountains, and sometimes there are things that it's better not to listen to. In this room, how many accents are there here? We are all mixed together, more and more everyday, and that has to be represented in cinema. I'm happy that finally, that door seems to be more open."
Best Adapted Screenplay winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire):
"I learned to stop being English about things like love. If you make a film in England about love, it's hugely complicated. It's all about saying what the weather is like, and you're secretly telling someone you love them. You know what the English are like; they're very repressed people. You don't get that in India. India is incredibly un-cynical about love. It's a not a complicated thing. It's me, you, love. Let's go."
Kunio Kato who won for animated short commented on his favorite moment of the evening through an interpreter, "Meeting Mr. Jack Black was the most exciting thing. I always wanted to be as funny as he is."
Departures director Yojiro Takita admitted, he expected to hear Waltz with Bashir read out as foreign-language film winner. "I didn't believe it. It was unbelievable."
James Marsh who won the documentary feature prize for Man on Wire escorted the film's subject Philippe Petit backstage with them. The wire-walker said he's not done taking chances. "It's in my veins, I have to keep walking. I'm going to walk in NYC in the fall, to a library, I won't tell you which one. It's a walk for literacy to inspire kids to read."
Cinematography winner Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), said he brought some of the skills he'd learned in his documentary work to Slumdog.
"You have to see what's going on in a short space of time and grab it. Maybe my background from documentary is more relevant."My main brief was to learn how to run with the boys, run with them at a certain height and certain pace. And that was no small thing in the slums of Mumbai."
Other tidbits from EW's Hollywood Insider coverage:
*Philip Seymour Hoffman explained his hat saying he's in a film with "crazy hair" and would "rather deal with hat jokes" than hair jokes.
*The kids from Slumdog Millionaire were regular autograph hounds asking Meryl Streep and Daniel Craig for their John Hancocks.
*Robert Pattinson remarked that the Oscars are "more organized. At Twilight premieres, you think you're going to die."
*Doubt writer/director John Patrick Shanley says he's working on an original script next with a one-word hint: "Magic."
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For a very brief moment--even by film standards--Quincy Watson (Foxx) has it all: A hot girlfriend Helen (Bianca Lawson) and a successful writing career with Spoils publishing. But when his boss Philip (Peter MacNicol) asks him to deliver pink slips (the company apparently downsized the entire human resource department) Quincy quits--and his hot girlfriend leaves him. Quincy decides to channel his loneliness and depression into writing the Breakup Handbook which becomes an instant bestseller. Suddenly Quincy is being called upon to fix everyone's relationship woes. When his cousin Evan (Morris Chestnut) thinks his girlfriend Nikki (Union) is about to break up with him he sends Quincy to meet her at a club and build him up to her. Neither man however is aware that Nikki had cut her hair short which sets off a chain of misunderstandings. Quincy and Nikki who have never met end up hitting it off. Don't look for anything below the surface of this modern-day comedy of errors; it's frothy entertainment determined by happenstance and slapstick humor--including a flatulent alcoholic pug.
Despite a cast of heavy hitters there is not much character development going on here and Quincy Evan and Nikki are as equally rounded out as the film's pug. Besides what they do for a living very little else is offered up. Why was Quincy for example so in love with uber bitch Helen and what forsaken qualities did Nikki ever see in Evan? But while the film's characters lack depth one thing works: the undeniable chemistry between Foxx and Union. There is something slightly off-putting for example about Nikki and Quincy's hook-up (she is his cousin's girlfriend after all) but the electricity the duo share on screen makes it seem right. They become not a couple of scheming two-timers but two people that would be committing a crime if they didn't get together. Poor Chestnut doesn't get to infuse his character Evan with anything other than slime a shady kind of guy who eventually finds redemption with an equally sleazy woman--not exactly a romantic notion. MacNicol's abilities meanwhile are also wasted on his character Philip a ruthless boss who's also a real sap in the sack.
Writer/director Daniel Taplitz who made his feature directorial debut with the 1997 laffer Commandments delivers a trivial romantic comedy devoid of any depth or character development. And following the tradition of all fluffy comedies anything that threatens the laughs is essentially eliminated. There are some relationship issues for example that could have been looked at less flippantly and used to craft more substantial characters like infidelity and commitment phobia but Taplitz seems to try his best to skim passed anything real in order to move on to happier funnier subjects--including a dog who drinks liquor and farts. Predictably the mayhem and confusion is resolved in the end with a final scene in which all the inaccuracies are explained and love conquers all. One thing Taplitz did pay attention to however are the film's sets. Quincy's house is filled with 1950s-inspired furniture including molded fiberglass chairs and laminated plywood tables and he takes his date to catch none other than Tony-winner Heather Headley in concert. Quincy may not have depth but at least he has style.
The dinosaurs are bigger and better than ever; the story is not. That is the essential crux of all of the reviews for Universal's Jurassic Park III, which opened Wednesday. "The sheer physical presence of these creatures is much more believable and convincing than what can be generously characterized as the film's plot," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "The story's tired, as are the main characters," writes Rita Kempley in the Washington Post. "But the velociraptors, the triceratops and a brood of winged pteradons are among the most marvelous effects in the history of animation." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News writes his review in the form of a letter to Steven Spielberg, who produced -- but didn't direct -- the latest Jurassic sequel. "This is even more of a Steven Spielberg movie than the two you directed," he writes. "In some ways, it's a better movie than the two you directed. There are more dinosaurs, more action, and less scientific hooey trying to justify the whole thing." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times gives the movie its best review among the major critics, even though he drags his feet -- or at least his fingers -- doing so. ""There was nothing I disliked about it," he writes double-negatively, "and a lot to admire in its lean, efficient storytelling. I can't praise it for its art, but I must not neglect its craft, and on that basis, I recommend it." Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post doesn't agree, however, calling the sequel "so inferior even to Jurassic Park 2 that you can only hope it will be the last of its kind." Finally, Philip Wuntch sums up in the Dallas Morning News: "Jurassic Park III directly shows us how much audiences have gained in the name of special effects. And indirectly it shows how much has been lost."