Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Marvel Studios took a gamble bringing their mythological character Thor to the big screen. Unlike the X-Men or Spider-Man the Norse God never managed to cross over into the mainstream—his winged cap and signature hammer recognizable only to those in the comic book know.
But the gamble paid off: Thor was a box office hit and a light-hearted piece of pop entertainment that solidified the studios' plans for The Avengers and kicked off summer in all the right ways. Now the movie's hitting Blu-ray and while the disc doesn't pile on too many additional flourishes fans of the flick will relish in the sharp colorful world of Asgard that looks even more pristine in high definition.
The movie is your run-of-the-mill origin story introducing us to the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) who's really no god at all but rather a stubborn ill-tempered meathead from another dimension. After instigating war with the nefarious Frost Giants his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes him to Earth where he's forced to live out his days as a mere mortal. This is all according to Thor's trickster brother Loki's plan who takes the opportunity to ascend to Asgard's throne and rule as he sees fit. Lucky for the universe Thor crosses paths with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her two scientist buddies (Kat Dennings and Stellen Skarsgard) who help him learn how to be a hero. Simple action-packed and fun. Can't wrong there.
Director Kenneth Branagh cooked up some wild visuals for this movie and the Blu-ray makes them pop. The rainbow bridge has never looked rainbow-ier and even the stark desert of New Mexico looks fantastical under Branagh's canted-angle eye. While the sound mix is a little wonky at times (really LOUD action scenes occasionally hushed dialogue scenes) the energetic movie you caught in theaters this summer remains intact. Certain Blu-rays come as a combo pack equipped with a standard definition copy Blu version and 3-D Blu—I didn't get a chance to experience the 3-D in a home setting but the option is there for those equipped with the right tech.
As for the extras the Blu-ray is equipped with enough to pepper the Thor experience for those invested in owning all the Marvel flicks. The 11 deleted scenes feature a ton of additional Warriors Three and Asgard material—but were rightfully cut from the finished film. They're corny they're pointless they're bad. The disc also comes with a "Marvel One-Shot" entitled The Consultant a short film starring Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) that bridges the gap between 2008's Incredible Hulk and next year's Avengers. Again this one's for fans only a mythology-building exercise that doesn't add too much but tickles the fanboy funny bone. The real highlight is Kenneth Branagh's commentary which is insightful playful and engaging. He's an esteemed director for a reason and has plenty to say on bringing his vision of Thor to life.
While the Blu-ray's extras may not be the draw fans of the movie will be happy with the Thor disc a square meal of superhero home entertainment that should leave you properly excited for the upcoming Captain America Blu-ray and 2012 Avengers team-up!
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.
Today's a big day for fan-boys around the world, and an even bigger day for those in New Mexico. Walt Disney Pictures has officially begin production on The Avengers, Marvel Studios' uber-anticipated superhero spectacular which brings together the company's core characters for an expansive action-adventure experience unlike the world has ever seen.
Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye, The Black Widow, Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will all assemble for this incredible film, written and to-be-directed by Joss Whedon. According to the official press release, which you can read below, Tom Hiddleston's Loki (who will battle his brother Thor on May 6th) will appear as the villain in the film, though I expect a few other familiar bad guys to show up in support of the demigod. In addition to the press release, have a look at the awesome set photo which shows the chairs of the respective heroes to get you amped up for what is easily the most hyped film of next year!
Production has commenced today in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Marvel Studios' highly anticipated movie "Marvel's The Avengers," directed by Joss Whedon ("Serenity") from a screenplay by Whedon. The film will continue principal photography in Cleveland, Ohio and New York City. Robert Downey, Jr. ("Iron Man," "Iron Man 2") returns as the iconic Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") as Thor, Chris Evans ("Captain America: The First Avenger") as Captain America, Jeremy Renner ("Thor," "The Hurt Locker") as Hawkeye, Mark Ruffalo ("The Kids Are Alright") as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson ("Iron Man 2") as Black Widow, Clark Gregg ("Iron Man," "Thor") as Agent Phil Coulson, and Samuel L. Jackson ("Iron Man," "Iron Man 2") as Nick Fury. Set for release in the US on May 4, 2012, "Marvel's The Avengers" is the first feature to be fully owned, marketed and distributed by Disney, which acquired Marvel in 2009. Continuing the epic big-screen adventures started in "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Iron Man 2," "Thor," and "Captain America: The First Avenger," "Marvel's The Avengers" is the super hero team up of a lifetime. When an unexpected enemy emerges that threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury, director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1963, "Marvel's The Avengers" brings together the mightiest super hero characters as they all assemble together on screen for the first time. The star studded cast of super heroes will be joined by Cobie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother) as Agent Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as Tom Hiddleston ("Wallander") and Stellan Skarsgård ("Angels & Demons," "Mamma Mia!") who will both reprise their respective roles as Loki and Professor Erik Selvig from the upcoming Marvel Studios' feature "Thor." "Marvel's The Avengers" is being produced by Marvel Studios' President, Kevin Feige, and executive produced by Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Louis D'Esposito, Patty Whitcher, and Jon Favreau. Marvel Studios' Jeremy Latcham and Victoria Alonso will co-produce. The creative production team also includes Oscar nominated director of photography Seamus McGarvey ("Atonement"), production designer James Chinlund ("25th Hour"), Oscar winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), Oscar winning visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs ("Iron Man 2," "The Matrix"), visual effects producer Susan Pickett ("Iron Man," "Iron Man 2"), stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell ("Superman Returns"), and four-time Oscar nominated special effects supervisor Dan Sudick ("Iron Man," "War of the Worlds"). The editors include Oscar nominated Paul Rubell ("Collateral") and Jeffrey Ford ("Crazy Heart"). Marvel Studios most recently produced "Iron Man 2" which was released in theatres on May 7, 2010. The sequel to "Iron Man," starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke, took the number one spot its first weekend with a domestic box office gross of $128.1 million. To date the film has earned over $620 million in worldwide box office receipts. In the summer of 2008, Marvel produced the summer blockbuster movies, "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk." "Iron Man," in which Robert Downey, Jr. originally dons the super hero's powerful armor alongside co-stars Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow, was released May 2, 2008 and was an immediate box office success. Garnering the number one position for two weeks in a row, the film brought in over $100 million its opening weekend and grossed over $571 million worldwide. On June 13, 2008, Marvel released "The Incredible Hulk" marking its second number one opener of that summer. The spectacular revival of the iconic green goliath grossed over $250 million in worldwide box office receipts. Source: Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios