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.
Nice guy Jerry (Matthew Lillard) is the same numbingly trite character we've seen in hundreds of other movies. He faces 30 with uncertainty. He doesn't know if he should propose to his beautiful girlfriend Denise (Bonnie Somerville). He just can't commit darn it! Oh life is so confusing! Meeting up with his best buds Tom "the rebel" (Dax Shepard) and Dan "the runt" (Seth Green) at the funeral of their dead friend Billy they reunite in the-what else?--tree house of their youth. There they discover a map of Billy's longtime obsession: The disappearance of hijacker D.B. Cooper with $200 000 cash. (Never mind that the real Cooper's flight took off in 1971 well before any of these characters would be born.) So these three friends set out on an expedition from the heart and learn a few valuable life lessons along the way. They embark on a canoe trip in the Pacific Northwest in search of Cooper's lost treasure with a very large bear and two even larger hillbillies in hot pursuit. Which is of course just a big excuse for some crazy hijinks in the woods the obligatory stoner sequence gorgeous but unshaven tree-huggers living atop a redwood a crazed mountain man the usual.
Lillard has an off-kilter charm that works in his supporting roles but not so much as the lead. One imagines the producers offering the role first to Adam Sandler and then to Vince Vaughn or Luke Wilson before finally settling on Lillard after they all refuse. His overbearing earnestness in the role recalls his work in SLC Punk straining for normalcy when something completely off-the-wall would work so much better. Shepard (from MTV's Punk'd) fares better he is amusingly annoying but at least he takes a side. Green is usually funnier than this but he doesn't usually have to lug an inhaler around with him as a prop or constantly stoop for laughs as the token scaredy cat. The three of them do have an easygoing chemistry that makes them good company. Burt Reynolds turns up with a foot-long beard as the mountain man who might know something about the treasure. It is certainly the most vanity free performance of Reynolds' career and while it doesn't amount to much it's a step in the right direction for a guy who could still be a great character actor if he could finally get over the fact that he is no longer Stroker Ace.
Steven Brill is best known as the director of the first Adam Sandler movie that didn't reach nine figures at the box office Little Nicky and he hasn't exactly advanced the art of screen comedy here. Nevertheless the pacing is brisk the timing is crisp and the repartee (credited to five writers) is snappy. Even the action comedy sequences mostly running away from the bear and the hillbillies are convincingly done. But make no mistake this is clearly the work of a man hell-bent on paying homage to The Goonies and for that miniscule target audience that not only saw The Goonies in the theater it can also differentiate the Coreys. Of course '80s music has been back in vogue for several years so it's inevitable that the '80s comedy embodied in this movie The Girl Next Door
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and others would return. But somebody had better make a good one soon or it will disappear faster than you can say Kajagoogoo.
January 09, 2002 12:32pm EST
Pop acts plan to perform at three benefits concerts this weekend to raise money for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, The Associated Press reports. The shows will kick off in New York at Madison Square Garden with the Backstreet Boys, Destiny's Child, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Billy Joel. The "United We Stand" concert Sunday in Washington will feature the Backstreet Boys and Destiny's Child, as well as 'N Sync, Michael Jackson, P. Diddy, KISS and Mick Jagger. Country stars Tim McGraw and Trisha Yearwood will also take to the stage Sunday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville.
Someone claiming to represent Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeta network has asked both CNN and Al-Jazeera TV to submit six written questions for him, that he will then answer on video tape, Variety reports. The proposal came from Al-Jazeera, which then notified CNN. The news network submitted six questions on Tuesday.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show will reopen Oct. 30 at Broadway's Circle in the Square for a 10-week run ending January 6, The Associated Press reports. Bat Boy will also resume this week, with the hit London musical Mamma Mia! premiering Thursday.
Rowan Atkinson, who starred in the hit TV shows Blackadder and Mr. Bean, is worried that proposed anti-terror laws outlawing "incitement to religious hatred" could curb freedom of expression, Reuters reports. Atkinson said there should be no subject about which jokes should be banned, including religion.
Comedian Denis Leary is putting on a New York benefit Monday night to honor the firefighters who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, People.com reports. According to Leary, Harrison Ford has offered to help, as well as Matthew Broderick, and Nathan Lane. Leary hopes to raise $250,000.
Whoopi Goldberg has become the first woman to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, The Associated Press reports. Chris Rock, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal took part in the event, which will be televised on PBS Nov. 21 at 9 p.m.
A United Nations panel ruled Tuesday that actor Rip Torn has the rights to the Internet domain name riptorn.com, The Associated Press reports. Torn complained to the World Intellectual Property Organization after someone from Oakville, Ontario registered the domain name in March 2000.
Novelist and politician Jeffrey Archer, who is serving a four-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice, has been moved to a prison where security is less strict, The Associated Press reports. The North Sea in Lincolnshire allows inmates more freedom of movement.
Russell Crowe has been offered a role in The Cinderella Man, playing real-life heavyweight boxing champ Jim Braddock, Variety reports. Lasse Hallstorm will direct the movie, which has been in development for several years now.
Ted Turner will have a cameo role in the Civil War film Gods and Generals, The Associated Press reports. Turner will reprise his role as Col. Waller T. Patton from the 1993 film Gettysburg. Gods and Generals, which is being financed by Turner, is a prequel to Gettysburg.
"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.