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.
In this unnecessary sequel we take up where we last left off with kick-ass vampiress Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and newly formed vampire-werewolf hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) on the run after offing all the baddies in the original Underworld. And now because of their shenanigans there’s a new psycho in town: Marcus (Tony Curran) the very first vampire (he’s got wings and everything) who wakes up from his slumber to wreak havoc. His plan is to release his captive twin brother who is conveniently the very first werewolf and the reason the war started in the first place so the twosome can come up with a new breed of blood-hungry monsters and take over humanity. Boy the things us human don’t know about… Mankind's only hope is Selene and Michael who set out to stop Marcus so they can in turn become the future of vampires and werewolves everywhere. Part three anyone? Word is still out on whether Kate Beckinsale has bite. She started out promisingly enough in the delightfully quirky Cold Comfort Farm and Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco but save for a few choice indies her film selections have since gone downhill including a stint as the sorely miscast Ava Gardner in The Aviator. As Selene the actress looks every bit sexy-cute in black leather with little vampire teeth and soulful eyes that go from dark to blue depending on how vampiric she gets while she deftly wields firearms. But Beckinsale appears to be going through the motions for the sake of a paycheck. Same goes for Speedman. As Selene’s counterpart--and as we find out in Evolution her lover--the actor mostly stands around gets mad turns all hybrid on us and rips other werewolves’ heads off. Anyone can do that. And what in the hell is veteran British thesp Derek Jacobi doing in this playing the bad brothers’ immortal father? Shame on him. Len Wiseman Beckinsale's hubby and Underworld’s original director takes the reins once again but it doesn’t look like the helmer learned much from his first experience. It’s the same old same old. Is it me or are these vampire movies starting to all look alike? The Blade series Van Helsing--all that dark foreboding and usually wet environs is just getting tiresome. Plus you can never exactly see what’s going on or who’s beating the crap out of who. Come to think of it that’s probably intentional. In any event Underworld: Evolution is simply pointless. The film’s original concept--a sort of Romeo and Juliet between vampires and werewolves--is indeed intriguing but to go beyond that is redundant. No it’s obvious Evolution is a case of greed a sequel drummed up because studio execs believe they can milk more money out of the fans of the original movie. I don’t think its going to work out as well the second time around.
In the beginning of the Dark Ages the warlords of England are brutally kept in line by the Irish King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). Tristan (James Franco) has grown up hating the Irish for killing his family and has made a strong allegiance to father figure Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) while Isolde (Sophia Myles) Donnchadh's daughter has grown up under her father’s thumb. After a fierce battle that leaves Tristan near death he washes up on Irish soil and is nursed secretly back to health by Isolde who tells him she’s someone else. The two fall madly in love but Tristan must return to England before he’s discovered. Meanwhile Donnchadh decides to stage a tournament between all the champions of England with his daughter as the prize. Tristan ends up winning the princess' hand for Lord Marke but is horrified to find out she’s his own true love. Tristan and Isolde now must suppress their love for the sake of peace and the future of England. But despite their best efforts to stay apart the lovers are driven inexorably together. Despite the fact that Franco (Spider-Man) and Myles (Underworld) look lovely rolling around on the ground in romantic trysts and gazing forlornly at one another you don’t necessarily feel any heat between them. That seems to be mostly the fault of Franco who plays the young Tristan far too stoically. We understand he’s a tortured soul torn between duty and love with his eyes perpetually half-filled with tears. But couldn’t he have shown a little more passion (and while he’s at it washed his hair)? The luminous Myles is better at showing her burning desire but she too is left many times sad and weepy. Only Sewell (Legend of Zorro) who is usually delegated to playing bad guys shows any kind of raw emotion as he first falls genuinely in love with his bride--and then is betrayed by her and the only son he ever knew. He’d probably make a great King Arthur. As the Celtic myth of Tristan and Isolde predates the Arthurian legend as well as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet you can easily see how those two more famous stories were possibly formed. Tristan & Isolde is a classic story of forbidden passion set against political upheaval as well as a tale about a tragic love triangle. Producers Ridley and Tony Scott had been fascinated with the legend for many years and finally got the opportunity to bring it to the big screen. Ridley however who directed last summer’s medieval fare Kingdom of Heaven wisely chose to hand over the directing reins to Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) who adequately paints a picture of a time when chaos reigned. Maybe Tristan & Isolde is not as compelling or romantic as the king of them all Braveheart but it is certainly far more accessible than say Kingdom of Heaven. Sorry Ridley.
Bet Alexander the Great never thought he'd be this popular after all this time.
In what looks to be another Hollywood race, Aussie director Baz Luhrmann is developing his own Alexander the Great project and trying to enlist his Romeo + Juliet star Leonardo DiCaprio to come on board as the legendary Macedonian leader.
The project, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and backed by Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox, will rival Oliver Stone's project for Intermedia Films, which has Colin Farrell attached to play Alexander and is set to go into production early next year.
De Laurentiis is already moving forward, even enlisting the assistance of King Mohammed VI of Morocco. Variety reports the producer and director will meet with the king Sept. 6 to ask permission to use Mohammed's personal army of 5,000 men and 1,000 horses to stage war scenes.
Variety reports each Alexander film could cost up to $140 million to make and speculates that whichever one starts filming first will be the only one that actually gets made.
Stone's project could fall apart as Intermedia Films is still trying to recoup losses over its disappointing K-19: The Widowmaker and is mounting the $170 million Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
And even though Luhrmann told Variety he is poised start production in early 2003, the director is currently preoccupied on bringing La Boheme to Broadway late December and will need at least a few months beyond that to get the Alexander project rolling. DiCaprio may also decide to go for the Martin Scorsese project about the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes called The Aviator. DiCaprio and Scorsese were also once attached to an Alexander project, which fell through.
HBO is out of the race altogether as it had to scrap its 10-part, $120 million miniseries about the charismatic Alexander when Mel Gibson's Icon Productions pulled out of the project.
May the best man win!
The American Film Institute's top 100 lists now include the best American screen romances--and Casablanca wins the top honors.
The ultra-romantic film starring Humphrey Bogart as bar owner Rick Blaine and the exquisite Ingrid Bergman as his long-lost love, Ilsa, took the No. 1 spot when CBS aired the special AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Tuesday night.
The rest of the top 10, in order, included Gone with the Wind, West Side Story, Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember, The Way We Were, Doctor Zhivago, It's a Wonderful Life, Love Story and City Lights.
The oldest film to make it on the list was the 1920 Way Down East, which came in at No. 71, while the most recent film was the 1998 Shakespeare in Love at No. 50.
The range was very broad: from the hilarious, such as Annie Hall (No. 11) and When Harry Met Sally... (No. 25), to the tragic, such as Wuthering Heights (No. 15) and Titanic (No. 37).
During the broadcast, a myriad of directors, producers and actors gave their two cents about the choices on the list and pondered the question: What makes a love story great?
"At the end of the day, it's what happens between a man and a woman on the screen," When Harry Met Sally... said director Rob Reiner , who also had two other films make it to the list, The American President (No. 75) and The Princess Bride (No. 88). "It's a very different approach to that in all three cases with my films."
Director Sydney Pollack, whose film Out of Africa was No. 13 on the list, added, "When there's real closure in a love story and it's resolved in a happy way, it doesn't reverberate as much afterward. That's been true from Greek tragedy on, from Shakespeare on. Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Heloise and Abelard. Many great love stories have been about unobtainability."
According to AP, AFI began its tradition of annual lists on different movie themes four years ago. The top 100 screen romances were chosen by about 1,800 directors, actors, studio executives, critics and others in Hollywood, who voted from a field of 400 nominated films.
By Noah Davis & Kit Bowen
With the release of O, Shakespeare's intense play Othello gets a distinctively modern update, centering around a prep school's black basketball star, Odin, his white girlfriend, Desi, and the jealous teammate Hugo, who wants to break them up. We asked our writers how they thought the movie held up against the play, who did the best acting job of the three leads, and what is their favorite Shakespearean teen movie.
Hollywood.com: Here we are once again, another Shakespeare play getting a teen update. Did the story of Othello work in a modern adaptation?
Kit Bowen: Unfortunately, no. Othello really works best in an adult world rather than a teen-age one. You never truly buy into Odin's all-consuming feelings toward Desi. I mean, honestly, in the story they've only been going out for four months. And the issues at stake in the original Othello deal with war and the fate of a country, not on whether Odin gets a basketball scholarship to a major university. The relevance of O doesn't measure up to the play.
Noah Davis: Making Shakespeare's play Othello, which was written in 1604, appear to be torn from yesterday's headlines is no small achievement. The series of shootings in American high schools, particularly in Colorado's Columbine High, ironically kept O from being released earlier. Had the filmmaking team thrown caution to the wind and released O, say, one week after the Columbine tragedy, the impact would have been stunning, and thus a teen update would have worked better. Shakespeare wrote his play for the masses--the groundlings who could not read, but given the absence of TV and movies held the stage to greater respect than we do today. So those watching O might consider Othello was much more timely to the mass audience of 1604 than it would be to all but a small, elite audience today.
Ultimately, I think the writers failed to convert it realistically to a modern teen outlook.
Hollywood.com: There were two (but perhaps only two) major departures from the original plot. One was to reveal Iago/Hugo's motive, and the other was to make Othello/Odin's race an issue. Was either a mistake, and if both, which was the bigger mistake?
Noah Davis: I think both were mistakes. It makes utterly no sense for the Iago character, Hugo--who, in the climax of the play, as here in the movie, falls into silence when his scheme has been carried out, thus maintaining the unknowability that is his hallmark throughout the play--to lay out his motives for us, which is what happens here. In a decision that's even more damaging than making Iago/Hugo spill the beans, the writer and director have made the classic mistake of assuming that Othello is about race, an issue that, at most, is tangential to the play, which is first and foremost about jealousy.
Kit Bowen: Can I talk now? Geez, I guess we've hit the mother lode for Noah, folks. However, I agree with him to some extent. Obviously, when playing Iago in the play, the actor can go two ways, either playing it straight and serious or playing it for the devious and maliciously wry imp that he is. That's the beauty of it. However, in O, Josh Hartnett has been directed to play Hugo straight and, as if the audience were not smart enough, is given a very clear cut motive of a son not loved by his father. Boo hoo. I think if they chose to play Hugo as an apathetic rich spoiled kid who just didn't give a damn and did the whole thing for kicks, would have been much more interesting--and would relate better to this day and age. The race issue was completely unnecessary.
Hollywood.com: Of these teen remakes, which Shakespearean-themed movie have you thought worked the best?
Kit Bowen: My personal favorite was Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. I thought the whole modern reworking was brilliant, and that Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes had the maturity to handle the roles. Loved the part when Juliet actually wakes up before Romeo takes the poison. I thought maybe, just maybe, this time the plan would work. But that's because I'm a romantic.
Noah Davis: Romantic, shmomantic. Kit, you're softer than the Pillsbury Dough-Boy. The best translation of Shakespeare to a teen setting is My Own Private Idaho. Gus Van Sant knew what to change and what to leave alone to make this work, and work well. Keanu Reeves was Prince Hal, a bumbling doofus who doesn't know how to treat his true friends, and the scenes in the flop-house where he held court were a perfect mimicry of the parody device Shakespeare used in the play. River Phoenix gave a deep and moving performance, and the cinematography was excellent.
Hollywood.com: As Kit mentioned, Shakespeare is pretty weighty matter for a young actor to handle. Of the three leads, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer, who did the best job?
Noah Davis: Julia Stiles, who is now a veteran of three teen Shakespearean updates, does a fine job, even if she is hamstrung by the dialogue at times. Josh Hartnett had the right look for the high school dreamboat in The Virgin Suicides, but, so far, he hasn't given any indication of being an actor. He simply doesn't have the depth or sense of ominous mystery to pull off Iago. He acts entirely with his overhanging brow and clenched jaw, and he very quickly becomes a drag. Mekhi Phifer has some nice relaxed moments, especially cuddling in bed with Stiles. But this Othello has been drained of humor and sexy playfulness. Finally, he's as uninteresting as all upright young men usually are.
Kit Bowen: Ms. Stiles is certainly the standout because of her experience, but her Desi isn't the strongest performance she's given in a Shakespearean context. That would have to be Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, which is a juicier part for her by far. Phifer phones in the performance, but honestly, how can you take Othello and turn him into a prep school basketball star? Hartnett, on the other hand, was a victim of bad direction. I believe he could have turned in something more compelling if he was motivated to do so. He had something in his eyes that was creepily similar to the Iago I've seen on stage.