The undervalued HBO series Treme is coming to an end with its fourth season beginning on Dec. 1. This final season, extended as essentially a courtesy from HBO, will consist of five episodes. Just as unwatched but somehow less critically appreciated than Enlightened (another series gone too soon), Treme at least has had the chance to negotiate its demise, and creator David Simon is confident that this season will bring the series to a satisfying close.
The trailer promises the thrill of Obama's hard-to-believe first election, trailing some measure of hope into the characters' difficult lives as they still, years later, are piecing together their former lives, accompanied by plenty of music, from inexperienced kids all the way to seasoned professionals. And throughout it all, the thread of neglect and police corruption that leaves many dead bodies behind in a show that doesn't normally focus on graphic crimes. Simon is clearly bursting to combine the thrill of new hope with the struggle of a New Orleans that still hasn't managed to completely recover almost 10 years later.
Less transformative than The Wire and less devestating than The Corner, Treme is still one of the most ambitious TV projects of the last ten years. While it could never truly capture a city as sprawling and historied as New Orleans, it fills in some of our preconceived notions — about the crime, the food, the music — with lovingly rendered detail and explodes common assumptions. Exploring haute cuisine instead of fatty fried food, or drawing out the hip hop and funk influences in local jazz instead of the expected big band. And, like The Wire, Treme is at its most affecting when exploring the school system. Wendell Pierce's struggling musician-turned-elementary school teacher Antione Baptiste shows yet again that placing a character in a classroom can transform how you see them.
Without the familiarity of the cops/criminals dynamic, Treme struggled to hold on to David Simon fanatics coming off The Wire looking for the next great HBO series. But while that show was about the death of the American city, Treme, for all of the indignities and injusticies foisted upon the characters, is about the eternal life of an American city. People didn't discover The Wire until it came out on DVD, but that doesn't have to be the case with Treme. There's nothing more satisfying than saying you watched a show before it caught on... you have the chance this December.
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.