In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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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.
James MacArthur, who for 11 seasons booked ‘em on Hawaii Five-O, passed away earlier this morning. He was 72. Born in 1937 to playwright Charles MacArthur and EGOT winner Helen Hayes, he is survived by his wife of 25 years, Helen, and their four children and seven grandchildren.
Forever remembered as the second in command on Hawaii Five-O, he also had a prosperous stage career before and after the long running program. MacArthur joined the classic tropical cop show after the pilot was created when test audiences didn’t like the original. The producer remembered MacArthur from his work on Hang ‘Em High and brought him in as a replacement. An avid golfer and traveler, he once drove all the way from London to Malawi, Africa.
Read on for the official press release:
Today the world mourns the loss of internationally-known actor, family man, and humble human being, James Gordon MacArthur. He passed on October 28th 2010 at the age of 72 with his family by his side.
James was born on December 8, 1937 in Los Angeles, California and raised in a theatre atmosphere by his parents, the First Lady of the American stage, Helen Hayes and noted playwright Charles MacArthur residing at their home, "Pretty Penny", on the bank of the Hudson River in Nyack, New York.
As an actor, James had three strong separate careers, Live Stage, Movies and Television. In 1955 prior to his senior year at the Solebury School, James appeared in the TV play, "Deal a Blow". After graduation and before going to Harvard, he went to Hollywood to make the film version of it, renamed "The Young Stranger" which earned him a nomination in the Most Promising Newcomer category at the 1958 BAFTA awards. During summer breaks from Harvard he made "The Light in the Forest" and "Third Man on the Mountain" for Walt Disney. In 1959 and 1960, he made both "Kidnapped" and "Swiss Family Robinson" for Disney and made his Broadway debut playing Aaron Jablonski opposite Jane Fonda in "Invitation to a March" which won him the 1961 Theatre World Award for Best New Actor. He then appeared in "Under the Yum Yum Tree", "The Moon Is Blue", "John Loves Mary", "Barefoot in the Park" and "Murder at the Howard Johnson's" before returning to Hollywood to star in such movies as "The Interns", "Spencer's Mountain", "The Truth About Spring" with Haley Mills, and "Cry of Battle". In 1963, he was a runner up in the Golden Laurel Awards in the "Top New Male Personality" category. He then was a member of the all-star cast which included Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, George Montgomery, Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas in "The Battle of the Bulge".
In 1968 producer Leonard Freeman remembered the actor who did a cameo in the Clint Eastwood movie "Hang 'em High" as the traveling preacher who came on the set, requiring only one take which was excellent. He called James, and cast him as Detective Dan Williams of Hawaii 5-0, who will be forever tied to the phrase "Book 'em Dano!".
After 11 years as Detective Dan Williams, he returned to the live stage in "The Hasty Hearst" with Caroline Lagerfelt", "The Front Page", a play written by his father Charles MacArthur, "A Bed full of Foreigners" in several locals and then played Mortimer in the national tour of "Arsenic and Old Lace" with Jean Stapleton, Marion Ross, and Larry Storch.
MacArthur loved life and all that it had to offer. He was adventurous and a world traveler. In the early 1970s he spent six months driving his Land Rover from London, England to Malawi, Africa with friend, Stan Hattie. He also enjoyed sharing his love for travel with his family taking them on numerous vacations to many exotic locations. James was an avid tennis player and enjoyed skiing, fishing, and hiking. He was a skilled flamenco guitarist and a consummate reader. His passion for playing golf led him to meet and fall in love with his wife, LPGA tour player and teacher, "H.B." Duntz. Throughout his life James developed a long list of friendships and stories to tell along the way. He had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. He was witty and charming always enjoying a good time. He was often the recipient of practical jokes; however, one could always tell when he was the instigator of a few good ones of his own by that famous little crinkle at the side of his mouth and the twinkle in his eye. He was never one to be lost for words.
MacArthur was deeply honored to speak at the Library of Congress. He also was the Master of Ceremonies at Dan Quayle's Inaugural Ball. He was most supportive of the theatre through the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, DC serving as a Board member, participant in the Annual Charity Auction and as the presenter of the Charles MacArthur Award for Best Screenplay at the annual Washington Theatre Awards.
In 2001, James was honored with his own star along the Walk of Fame in Palm Springs, California. In 2003, the fourth annual Film in Hawaii Award was bestowed upon him and Hawaii Five-O. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored James with a Gold Circle Award for 50 years of outstanding contributions to the medium in 2008. He was a true master of his craft.
His retirement was as busy as his career spending time with his family, who meant the world to him. He leaves behind his wife of over 25 years, Helen Beth (H.B. Duntz), four children: Charles P. MacArthur (Jenny), Mary McClure (Kevin), Juliette Rappaport (Kurt), James D. MacArthur and seven grandchildren; Ruby Johnstone, Riley Kea MacArthur, Ford and Daisy McClure, Jake, Luke, and Julia Rappaport.