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.
Although politically charged Middle Eastern terrorist themes have generally been box office poison of late Traitor is worth a look as it ratchets up the suspense to levels that make it this year’s successor to The Bourne Ultimatum. Don Cheadle stars as U.S. Special Opps officer Samir Horn a renegade military operative who walks the fine line between good and evil to the point where even HE isn’t sure which side he is working for. FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is hot on his tail in one of those enormously complicated undercover jobs. Horn conveniently stays two steps ahead of authorities who have reason to believe he may be working as a double agent with deep and dangerous connections to key terrorist organizations. A task force links him to various illegal operations in Yemen Nice and London and soon he becomes one of FBI’s Most Wanted--a man of contradictions and covert strategies that are perhaps not in the best interests of the United States. Muddying the waters is his secretive relationship with a veteran CIA contractor Carter (Jeff Daniels) who may have an unofficial agenda at odds with the agency. As Clayton tracks Horn around the world a high stakes game of cat and mouse leads to some surprising twists and turns. With Hotel Rwanda’s Don Cheadle in the lead and a ripped-from-the-headlines plotline you might be inclined to think Traitor is going to be one of those overly serious not-so-fun dramatic pieces. Think again. Cheadle comes off more like Matt Damon in the Bourne movies and nails this heavy action role focusing as much on the chase as on the complicated dialogue he has to deliver (including some very convincing Arabic). Key to the role is keeping the audience on edge and constantly questioning Horn’s motives as he does his high wire act on the gray line between black and white. Cheadle plays him as a man trying to do good but one who isn’t quite sure what that means anymore. Although the actor dominates the landscape Pearce as the agent in pursuit is also very effective in his dogged determination to come to the truth. Their relationship is reminiscent of the one between Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. Also impressive in his few scenes are Jeff Daniels as the morally ambiguous independent CIA contractor and Neal McDonough as Clayton’s partner. In what could have been stereotypical terrorist roles casting real Arabic actors paid off with nicely authentic performances from a group of fine international performers including Aly Khan (A Mighty Heart) and Said Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner). Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff successfully makes the transition from full-time screenwriter (The Day After Tomorrow) to a talent with a clear set of skills behind the camera. For a directing novice Nachmanoff has done his homework and has created a pulse-pounding action thriller that doesn’t miss a beat but still remains a complex drama to its core. Expertly blending some fine cinematography and superb editing the director makes this Middle-Eastern epic work as pure entertainment first and political polemic second. Interestingly it wasn’t Nachmanoff who came up with the intriguing concept but comedian Steve Martin who wrote the initial treatment thinking it would be a nifty premise for a movie. He was absolutely right.
Talk about pressure. When LAPD hostage negotiator extraordinaire Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) has a bad day lives are lost--and it is after one particularly bad day that Talley decides he's had it with the job. Plagued by guilt he relocates his family and becomes the police chief of a sleepy northern California town. But it's about to be woken up. Corrupt accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) and his two kids--teenager Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and grade schooler Tommy (Jimmy Bennett)--are taken hostage in their house after a carjacking attempt by a trio of young punks goes awry. Talley is forced to step in once again as the hostage negotiator. Why you may ask since he is now just a lowly police man? Because it turns out Talley's family is being held captive by Walter's superiors who need to get something very important out of the house. They demand the seasoned Talley take control of the situation before things get really ugly. And they do get ugly.
I'm sure Willis would say he agreed to play yet another reluctant hero whose family is in danger because the concept was intriguing. But we all know he probably made Hostage for the money. However Willis is still an appealing actor and a tried and true action star. He infuses Talley with his usual quiet strong demeanor which inevitably turns tortured--and then revengeful--when things go badly. Another standout includes Ben Foster (HBO's Six Feet Under) who does a nice job as Mars the most demented and brutal of the three kidnappers. Not only is the cold-blooded Mars on the edge but he's also some kind of a super delinquent who's able to knock out police cars professional hit men and the like with ease. Scary what they teach kids these days. Willis' daughter Rumer also gets some screen time as Talley's sullen daughter--but since she doesn't get to say much the jury is still out on whether she's inherited any of her parents' acting skills.
Hostage unfortunately takes a good idea and ruins it. To his credit French director Florent Siri who is best known in his native country for crime thrillers seems to understand about building the tension. The Smiths' isolated fortress situated in the hills is a perfect place to piece together the action-thriller ingredients: the shell-shocked cop trying not to repeat his past mistakes; the novice in-over-their-heads kidnappers lead by a trigger-happy psychopath; the resourceful and brave young hostages on the inside; and the menacingly ominous outside influences. But Hostage ends up taking these well-placed elements and running them into the ground. The film starts to drag in its logistical inconsistencies. Why don't the corporate baddies just come in and blow everyone away from the beginning? They obviously have the means to do so. But no. We are instead subjected to Willis running around trying to outsmart everyone natch while having heartbreaking conversations with the precocious little boy inside the house. When things finally do come to a head we are left with a severely over-the-top overtly bloody climax.
Top Story: Kilmer Says He Didn't Diss New Mexico
Actor Val Kilmer is claiming Rolling Stone magazine misquoted him on comments he made about New Mexico, where Kilmer now lives, The Associated Press reports. The magazine's Oct. 16 issue features an interview with the Wonderland star, where Kilmer is quoted as saying he lives in the "homicide capital of the Southwest" and 80 percent "of the people in my county are drunk." "I didn't say I live in the homicide capital of the Southwest," Kilmer told AP Tuesday. Kilmer, who owns a ranch outside Pecos, N.M., said the community has embraced him, and he was saddened by the comments attributed to him. "You can ask anyone who knows me; I've never said a racist or prejudiced thing in my life," Kilmer said. Rolling Stone spokeswoman Claudia Diromauldo told AP the magazine hadn't heard from Kilmer. "Our only comment is, Rolling Stone stands by the article," she said Wednesday.
Experts Says Tiger Had It In for Roy
Animal experts want to make this clear: The tiger who mauled Roy Horn last week during a Siegfried and Roy show meant to kill him. Several animal behaviorists dispute the statement put out by Horn's partner Siegfried Fischbacher Wednesday that the animal had been trying to help Horn after the illusionist slipped during the performance, Reuters reports. "The cat wasn't trying to protect him," Jonathan Kraft, head of the nonprofit group Keepers of the Wild, told Reuters. "That was a typical killing bite." Louis Dorfman, a Dallas animal behaviorist who works with the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary in Texas, told Reuters, "Stress led to the bite. It was an outlet for his irritation. Roy got lucky."
Courteney Cox Wants a Baby
Friends star Courteney Cox Arquette has admitted she and husband David Arquette are having trouble getting pregnant, AP reports. The actress told Barbara Walters in an interview for ABC's 20/20 that she has had "many miscarriages" but they are still trying with in vitro fertilization. Cox and Arquette, who married in 1999, say they'd consider adopting a child, but she added, "I do want his genes, and I would try probably a surrogate before that ... but then, absolutely, adoption." The interview airs tonight at 10 p.m.
Bonham Carter, Burton Have Son
Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton welcomed their first child Saturday, a boy whom they have not yet named, AP reports. The two met on the set of the remake Planet of the Apes and live in adjoining houses in north London. "I don't know if we'll marry," the magazine Radio Times quoted Bonham Carter as saying. "I find it romantic bearing his illegitimate child and living next door."
Chong Heads to Prison
Actor-comedian Tommy Chong reported to a federal prison near Bakersfield, Calif., Wednesday to serve out a nine-month sentence for conspiring to sell drug paraphernalia over the Internet, AP reports. Chong, 65, was sentenced Sept. 11 and said he got carried away with the fictional persona he portrayed in the Cheech & Chong comedies. His attorneys are seeking an appeal.
TV-Movie Planned for Schwarzenegger's Gov. Run
It's not too surprising A&E Network is developing See Arnold Run, a movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger's successful gubernatorial bid. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie should be ready in late summer 2004. With no cast set as yet, A&E's wish list of actors includes Dennis Quaid, Viggo Mortensen, Willem Dafoe and Billy Campbell.
Allen's Autobiography in the Works
Director Woody Allen has announced he will be writing his autobiography, sparking excitement recently among book publishers at the world's largest book fair in Frankfurt, Reuters reports. "There is huge interest," Caroline Michel from HarperCollins' HarperPress told Reuters. "If he were to write it, we think it would be the autobiography of the decade. It would be huge and funny and beautifully written," she said. HarperPress is believed to have bid one million dollars for the British and Commonwealth rights. Reuters was unable to confirm reports that Allen was not ready to start writing until the price was right.
Role Call: Thompson Takes On Potter Role, Ferrell Is Bewitched
Emma Thompson has signed on to play a small but pivotal role in the next Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Thompson will play Sybill Trelawney, the ethereal and eccentric professor of divination who is renowned at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for her somewhat questionable predictions…In more magical news, Will Ferrell has landed the role of Darrin in the feature film adaptation of the television classic Bewitched. He'll play the beleaguered mortal husband to the sensible witch Samantha, expected to be played by Nicole Kidman, the trade paper reports.